Results tagged “Trinity” from Reformation21 Blog

Love and Anger at the Cross?

Last week, Wyatt Graham published a post titled, "The Father Was Not Angry at the Son of the Cross," in which he rightly explained that God the Father never stopped loving the Son--even when the Son hung on the cross. While there are many good and helpful statements in Wyatt's post--and, while he cites John Calvin for support--quite a number of them raise more questions than they answer. For instance, he says, "To build a case that the Father was angry with the Son goes beyond Scripture and the consensus of orthodox Christianity." Here we need to pause and ask, "Is it, in fact, unorthodox to believe that, in some sense, the Father was angry with the Son when He hung on the cross in the place of His people to atone for their sin and propitiate the wrath of the Father for their eternal redemption?" 

That the Father never stopped loving the Son--even when he hung on the cross--is one of the most important Christological truths upon which we can meditate. After all, it was Jesus who said, "Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again" (John 10:17). Herman Witsius, the 17th century Dutch theologian, explained that the Son "never pleased the Father more, than when he showed himself obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."1 In his sermon, "The Saddest Cry from the Cross," Charles Spurgeon explained, 

"If it had been possible for God's love towards His Son to be increased, He would have delighted in Him more when He was standing as the suffering Representative of His chosen people than He had ever delighted in Him before."2

It is impossible for one member of the Godhead to look upon another without infinite and eternal love...even for one second. 

While it is undeniable that the Father never stopped loving the Son (even when the Son bore the wrath of God on the cross), the way we should speak about the Son as our substitute in relation to the Father when he hung on the cross has been long debated. Is it right, in any sense whatsoever, to say that the Father was angry with the Son when He punished the Son in our place and for our sin? Was he ever the subject of the holy anger of which we, as hell-deserving sinners, are the proper objects?

When we take up the question about God's disposition toward his people, we must first seek to embrace all that Scripture has to say. The Apostle Paul made quite clear that we are all "by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind" (Eph. 2:3). John Calvin wrote, 

"Children of wrath are those who are lost, and who deserve eternal death. Wrath means the judgment of God; so that the children of wrath are those who are condemned before God. Such, the apostle tells us, had been the Jews,--such had been all the excellent men that were now in the Church; and they were so by nature, that is, from their very commencement, and from their mother's womb."3

Why did Jesus have to bear the wrath of God on the cross when he hung there as our representative? Simply put, Jesus had to step in the place of filthy (Job 15:16; Lam. 1:8; Isaiah 64:6; ), ungodly (Rom. 4:5; 5:6); God hating (Rom. 1:30) enemies (Rom. 5:10) who "deserve eternal death," those who are "condemned before God." There was nothing in us to commend us to God. The Apostle puts it in the strongest of terms when he said, "I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells (Rom. 7:18)." When we read these statements, and the many others like it, we are meant to say, "This is who I am by nature--an enemy of God, alienated from Him and under His wrath and just displeasure." 

Nevertheless, God sent His Son because of "the great love with which He loved us" (Eph. 2:4). The Apostle marveled at what God had done in Christ crucified and he said, "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). Paul's identity was bound up in the love of God in Christ. He wrote, "The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20). God does not love us because of Jesus; rather, God loved us and so He gave His Son for us. As John Murray put it, "The death of Christ does not constrain or elicit the love of God but the love of God constrained to the death of Christ as the only adequate provision of this love. The love of God is the impulsive force and its distinctive character is demonstrated in that which emanates from it."

When we take these two things together we have to say that the cross shows me that I am, by nature, the object of God's just anger and displeasure and that I am the object of His eternal and unmerited love, by grace. The cross reveals a both/and rather than an either/or. This is essential to understanding that the Father never stopped loving the Son on the cross and that He made the Son the object of His just displeasure and anger as the representative who stood in our place to atone for our sin and to propitiate God's wrath. 

In his "Conciliatory, or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies agitated in Britain, under the Unhappy Names of Antinomians and Neonomians" (They were quite luxurious with the printing press back then), Witsius explained the longstanding difference of opinion among orthodox theologians over how to speak about the Son in light of the fact that He was bearing the wrath of God for His people on the cross. He first asked whether or not it was proper to say that "Christ on account of the pollution of our sins was also polluted and odious, and placed in such a state that God abhorred him?" After explaining that the Father never stopped loving the Son, but did, in fact, love him most when he was on the cross, Witsius wrote:

"Christ, not because of the susception of our sins, which was an holy action, and most acceptable to God, but because of the sins themselves which he took upon him, and because of the persons of sinners whom he sustained, was represented not only under the emblem of a lamb, inasmuch as it is a stupid kind of creature, and ready to wander; but also of a lascivious, a wanton, and a rank-smelling goat, Lev. 16:7. yea, likewise of a cursed serpent, John 3:14. and in that respect, was execrable and accursed, even to God. For this is what Paul expressly asserts, Gal. 3:13. on which place Calvin thus comments, "He does not say that Christ was cursed, but a curse, which is more; for it signifies that the curse due to all, terminated in him. If this seem hard to any, let him also be ashamed of the cross of Christ, in the confession of which we glory!"4

Witsius then suggested that even if we agree that "God abhorred the Son" when he legally represented us on the cross, we should be willing--for the sake of peace--to limit ourselves to the language of Scripture (e.g. Gal. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:21), 

"What cogent reason is there, why we should say that Christ was odious and abominable to the Father, when we may adhere to the dictates of the Holy Spirit, who pronounces that he was an execration (i.e. an angry denouncement or curse) of God? But I would wish also to know what there is in these words of human invention, except that they are of human invention, for the sake of which others are so much offended. If we love the thing itself, is there more of emphasis or of weight, in the names filthy, odious, abominable, than in the name cursed, or execrable? Why do we strive about words, which may be safely omitted, if found to give offense; but being also innocently said, ought not to be wrested to another sense."5

Next, Witsius set out an important section of the "Formula of Concord" as, what he deemed to be, "a convenient method of agreement" in this debate, 

"Since there is an exchange of persons between Christ and believers, and since the guilt of our iniquities was laid upon him, the Father was OFFENDED AND ANGRY with him. Not that he was ever moved with any PASSION against him, which is repugnant in general to the perfection of the Divine nature, under whatever consideration: neither that he was by any means offended at him, much less abhorred him, so far as he was considered IN HIMSELF, for so he was entirely free from all sin; but as considered IN RELATION TO US, seeing he was our SURETY, carrying our sins in his own Body. Thus, if by an OFFENDED AND AN ANGRY mind, you understand a holy WILL TO PUNISH, Christ the Lord felt and bore the displeasure of God, and the weight of his wrath, in the punishment of our sins, which were translated to him. For it pleased the Father to bruise him, having laid the iniquities of us all upon him."6

Witsius concluded, "If these things are granted on both sides, as is just, what controversy can remain?" 

In short, it is right for us to both affirm that the Father never stopped loving the Son when he hung on the cross and that the Father was justly angry with the Son "because of the sins themselves which he took upon him, and because of the persons of sinners whom he sustained." It would be unorthodox to insist that within the Godhead, the love of the Father for the Son was ever diminished or ceased. That would be a denial of the doctrine of Divine simplicity. It would be equally unorthodox to insist that--insomuch as Jesus was the representative of a people who are, by nature, under the wrath and curse of God and rightly the objects of his just anger and displeasure--the Son was not the object of the Father's just wrath. 

1.Herman Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, trans. Thomas Bell (Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807), 44. 

2. An excerpt from Charles Spurgeon's sermon "The Saddest Cry from the Cross," Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit #2803

3. Jon Calvin Calvin on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and the Ephesians (Edinburgh: Thomas Clark, 1841) p. 203

4. Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions pp. 44-45.

5. Ibid. p. 46.

6. Ibid., pp. 46-47. 

Preaching and the Mission of the Trinity


Every divine work reflects God's Triunity. This means that if we want to understand what God is doing in our lives we must begin with who God is. The Father always acts through his Son and by his Spirit. We come to the Father, by the Spirit, through the Son (Eph. 2:18). Preaching in relation to other biblical topics is like the relationship of countries to continents and continents to the world. Preaching must fit into the broader picture of the plan and work of the triune God.

John 4:21-24 gives us insight into the theological world in which preaching is found by describing the goal of evangelism. There we find Jesus telling the woman at the well, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:21-24). Since the Father is seeking people to worship him in Spirit and in Truth, preaching should aim to produce people who worship the Father by the Spirit through the Son. Relating preaching to the work of the Trinity is important because it ties together what preaching is, its necessity, its manner, and its aims in light of the doctrine of God, which is the center of the theological universe of Scripture.

First, the Father is seeking worshipers (v. 23). Worship is the primary purpose of life and worship is the primary context of this passage. Jews and Samaritans had no dealings with one another (v. 9) because they disagreed sharply over how to worship God. Jesus promised to give the woman of Samaria living water that would satisfy her thirsty soul, giving her eternal life (v. 10-14). When she wanted this water, Jesus confronted her with the fact that she had had five husbands (v. 15-18). By this, the woman knew that Jesus was a prophet (v. 19). As such, he was suited to teach her how to worship the Father. As they stood at the foot of the place of Samaritan worship, which embodied the Jewish/Samaritan division, she went to the heart of the matter by asking Jesus where the proper place of worship was (v. 20). She was not changing the subject. Jesus responded that her question would become irrelevant because all people would soon worship the Father in every place rather than on one mountain (v. 21). The second thing that he said was that Jewish worship was right and Samaritan worship was wrong (v. 22). Worship belonged to the Jews because salvation belonged to the Jews. To them were committed "the oracles of God" (Rom. 3:2). In God's light we see light (Ps. 36:9), but worship that is not informed by Scripture lies under the darkness of ignorance. The Father is seeking worshipers. Salvation is the means to this end. Preaching must match the Father's missionary aim.

Second, the Father is seeking worshipers in Spirit. Because "God is Spirit" (v. 24), he is not confined to temples (1 Kings 8:21; 2 Chron. 2:6; 6:18). Since he gives life and breath to all things, he cannot be served with the works of men's hands (Acts 17:25). God's spiritual essence extends beyond Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). The Old Testament movement in toward Jerusalem has become a movement out from Jerusalem, bringing the gospel to the rest of the world. The God who is Spirit seeks worshipers through the person and work of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 4:23-24). We must worship the Father in the Spirit, both because we must be born of water and Spirit if we would see the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:5), and because the Spirit takes what belongs to Christ and reveals it to us (Jn. 14:15). As the Son does what he sees the Father do, and the Father reveals all that he has to the Son, so the Father gives sinners life through the Son and has committed all judgment to the Son (Jn. 5:19-23). The Holy Spirit regenerates us so that we can believe in Christ and worship the Father with sincere hearts and unhypocritical faith. Preaching in the Spirit's power aims to produce worshipers in Spirit.

Third, the Father is seeking worshipers in Truth (Jn. 4:23-24). This means that we must worship the Father in and through Christ. The law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:17). No one has seen God at any time, but Christ, who is the only begotten Son dwelling in the bosom of the Father, reveals the Father to us (Jn. 1:18). Christ teaches the truth that sets people free from slavery to sin (Jn. 8:32). Christ is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through him (Jn. 14:6). Christ would send the Spirit to lead his followers into all truth (Jn. 16:13). He would do so by glorifying Christ (v. 14). Christ's continues to do these things in the church today through his Word and Spirit (Is. 59:20-21). Preaching should always reflect that fact that the Father seeks worshipers through his Son.

The missions of the divine persons remind us that preaching must be God-centered. All evangelism should be doxological and all doxology should be evangelistic. Like the Psalmist, our souls should boast in the Lord and we should call others to magnify the Lord with us (Ps. 34:2-3). Preaching must respect the processions and missions of the divine persons. The gospel is trinitarian because what God does reflects who God is (Eph. 1:3-14). Preaching must reflect the missionary goal of the Father. Do we seek worshipers through preaching sermons and do we seek to worship when hearing them? Preaching must promote dependence on the Spirit to produce sincere worshipers. Do we acknowledge the necessity of the Spirit's inward work in us in preaching and hearing sermons? Preaching must aim to bring people to worship the Father through Christ, who reveals himself in Scripture. Do we preach Christ from Scripture and worship God in light of Scripture? Do we come to sermons expecting to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth? Such questions should shape how we hear sermons and how ministers preach them. The purposes of worship and of preaching are to honor the Father and then our edification. Sermons are for God more than they are for us, and the Triune God works through sermons to put God in his proper place and us in ours.

*You can find the first four posts in this series on preaching here

Trinity: The Two Natures of Christ

In this new 8 message set, Trinity: The Two Natures of Christ, Liam Goligher continues his study of the Trinity from the Book of Hebrews. Visit the Trinity web page to learn more about what sparked this sermon series.

If Christians confuse what is true of Jesus Christ as a human being with what is true of the Eternally Divine Son, they make very serious errors indeed. The most obvious is to conflate the exaltation of the Son of God from all eternity with the welcome given by the Father to the God-Man Christ Jesus, who redeemed God's elect through a sacrificial death. So, in these great teachings, a course correction is long overdue. We must adore Jesus Christ our Lord, both fully Son of Man and fully Son of God.

Messages in this series include:
Mary, Did You Know?
Better By Design
Heirs of Salvation
In the Train of His Triumph
Lower Than the Angels
What If God Was One of Us?
The Son and His Family
After the Passion

Trinity: The Two Natures of Christ is available from on CDs or as MP3 on CD or MP3 downloads.

In the previous post in this series, I made some remarks upon the meaning of the term κεφαλή, especially in the context of 1 Corinthians 11:3. Challenging the supposed meaning of this term among certain advocates of the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS) position is important. Not only does it unsettle the frameworks within which authority is conceived of more generally, it also checks a tendency in the direction of univocally applying terms to God and humanity. However, there remains more to be said.

In particular, granting, purely for the sake of argument, that κεφαλή means 'one in authority (over),' we still haven't determined over whom the Father would be in authority. The assumption that the term 'Christ' is interchangeable with 'Son' in the dogmatic sense of that term is unjustified, as the first term relates to the Son in his human nature, while the second (in the context of dogmatic theology) more typically relates to the Son in his divine nature.

This distinction is not a trivial one, as orthodox theology has readily confessed a submission and obedience proper to Christ in his human nature, a submission which is not appropriate to his divine nature. Calvin writes:

"God, then, occupies the first place: Christ holds the second place. How so? Inasmuch as he has in our flesh made himself subject to the Father, for, apart from this, being of one essence with the Father, he is his equal. Let us, therefore, bear it in mind, that this is spoken of Christ as mediator. He is, I say, inferior to the Father, inasmuch as he assumed our nature, that he might be the first-born among many brethren."1

The question of whether a relation of authority and submission obtains between Father and Son in the eternal life of the Trinity is an important one, as our answer to it will frame our understanding of the work of the Son in the divine economy. Such an emphasis upon the oneness and unity of the divine will and authority protects us from the danger of slipping into conceiving of Christ principally as an obedient functionary of the divine will and authority, both of which are associated primarily with the Father. As a man, Christ stands on the human side of the Creator-creature relation, obedient to the will and subject to the authority of God. However, as divine, the will and authority of God is Christ's will and authority. In Jesus of Nazareth, we meet the authoritative God who wills to save. A robust doctrine of the Trinity allows us to retain the strength of this crucial emphasis.

This does not mean no economic differentiation between the persons can be spoken of here. As John Webster writes:

"Indivisibility does not disqualify personal differentiation or restrict it simply to the opera internae. It indicates that economic differentiation is modal, not real, and reinforces the importance of prepositional rather than substantive differentiation ('from' the Father, 'through' the Son, 'in' the Spirit). Modal differentiation does not deny personal agency, however; it simply specifies how the divine persons act. '[T]he several persons', Owen notes, 'are undivided in their operations, acting all by the same will, the same wisdom, the same power. Every person, therefore, is the author of every work of God, because each person is God, and the divine nature is the same undivided principle of all divine operations; and this ariseth from the unity of the person in the same essence.'"

Relating this to divine authority, we could speak of the Father as the source of authority and the authorizing One--authority comes from him. The Son is the entirely authorized One and the One through whom God's authority is exhaustively effected. The Spirit is the One in whom authority is given, enjoyed, and perfected. Authority thus understood is singular, eminently assigned to the Father, yet the inseparable possession and work of the undivided Godhead.

This in turn can serve to clarify our understanding of the incarnate Christ's mission. Rather than understanding the Son's relation to the Father in terms of a framework of authority and submission, this suggests that we should think in terms of different modes of a single, undivided divine authority. It is through the divine Son that the one authority of God is effected.

The manner in which the Son brings about the authority of God in history is through the path of human obedience. As a man with a human nature and will Christ submits to and is obedient to the will of God. However, this obedience can only truly be perceived for what it is when it is seen against the background of the fact that he is the authoritative divine Son. He is the one who can forgive sins. He is the one who can command the elements, cast out demons, and heal the sick, exercising the authority of God as his own. He is the one who receives the Spirit without measure and the radiant and glorious theophanic revelation of God on the Mount of Transfiguration. We are left in no doubt of the divine authority of Christ. The obedience and humiliation of Christ is the (paradoxically) authoritative work by which he overcomes human rebellion, reconciles humanity to God, and defeats Satan.

As we recognize this, it is possible to appreciate the work of Christ as revelatory of and congruent with the eternal relation between the Father and Son, without collapsing the necessary distinctions between the two and reading back Christ's human obedience and submission into the being of God. This obedience and submission exists on account of the revelation of the Father-Son relation within the framework of the Creator-creature divide. However, when we look closer, what is seen is not just the Son's self-rendering in obedience to the Father, but also the Father's exhaustive donation of authority to his Son.

This undoes any simplistic authority-submission polarity. God cannot be alienated from his authority nor give his glory to another. Yet God's authority and glory are found precisely in Christ, the Son who bears the divine name (cf. John 8:58; Philippians 2:9). The Father and the Son are mutually defining (as the names 'Father' and 'Son' suggest). The Father is glorified as the authority of his Son is confessed, as the Father is who he is only in relation to his Son (Philippians 2:11). The Son is the one through whom the Father's authority is effected; the Father is the one from whom the Son's authority comes: the authority of Father and Son is the one indivisible divine authority.

A further important passage for the ESS position is found in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, which speaks of the Son delivering up the kingdom to the Father in the end, and being subject to him. Once again, it is important to bear in mind that this reveals Triune relations in terms of the Creator-creature framework. This passage refers, not to the eternal relation between Father and Son, but to the culminating moment in the great drama of redemption, the moment when the submission of the Son arrives at its perfect completion. The submission of the Son in these verses is not a reference to the eternal unbroken relation between Father and Son in the Godhead, but to the climax of the work of the incarnate Son, when his mission arrives at its final telos, the reality of his authoritative obedience has been utterly fulfilled, and the complete divine authority he has effected is exhaustively related back to the Father as its source.

A closer look at this passage reveals the mutually defining relation between Father and Son. All divine authority in the world is effected through the Son and without him no divine authority is effected--all things are put under him. Indeed, the Son's effecting of the divine authority is the precondition for the Father's being all in all. On the other hand, it is the Father who exhaustively authorizes the Son. The Father places all things under his Son; the Son renders all things up to the Father. Once again, the differentiation between the persons is, as Webster observed above, a modal or prepositional differentiation of a single divine property--the one divine authority and will.

Getting these points correct is very important, not simply for orthodox conformity to Trinitarian creeds, but for a clear understanding of the shape of the biblical narrative, and of the authoritative Saviour that we have in Jesus Christ. The creeds exist to serve and advance this clarity. Within my next post, I will offer some concluding reflections that we can take forward from these debates.

1. An excerpt of Calvin's commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:3.

Experiencing the Trinity (Free Ebook)

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Crossway is giving away an ebook version of Experiencing the Trinity, by our friend, Joe Thorn. All you have to do is fill out a brief survey. In light of all the recent debate about the intertrinitarian relations, this would be a good book to work through. Today is the last day to fill out the survey and download the book. So...go get yours! 

The Trinity: Pastoral Implications Podcast

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This week on Theology on the Go, our host, Dr. Jonathan Master is joined by Dr. Liam Goligher. Dr. Goligher began serving as Senior Minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church in May of 2011. He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. Dr. Goligher has served as Senior Minister in Ireland, Canada, London, England, and his native, Scotland.

Dr. Goligher has contributed to more than ten books and authored four: A Window on Tomorrow (Christian Focus, 1994), The Fellowship of the King (Carlisle, 2003), The Jesus Gospel (Milton Keynes, 2006), and Joseph--The Hidden Hand of God (Fearn, 2008). His Sunday sermons are webcast on the internet and on the radio program No Falling Word. Continue reading...
It has seldom received as public an airing as is now possible in the context of social media, yet controversy surrounding the eternal subordination of the Son position (ESS) is not new. Although it has not usually intruded upon the wider Christian consciousness and has largely been confined to theological books and the pages of scholarly journals, debates on the subject have been ongoing for well over two decades and, in slightly different forms, even further back.

The egalitarian theologian, Kevin Giles, has been one of the most persistent and prominent critics of the eternal subordination of the Son position, challenging it in a number of different books over the years: The Trinity & Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God & the Contemporary Gender Debate (2002), Jesus and the Father: Modern Evangelicals Reinvent the Doctrine of the Trinity (2006), and The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Theology (2012). In his 2009 book, Who's Tampering With the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate, Millard J. Erickson tackled the subject, also from an egalitarian perspective.

Further books have been written in defence or discussion of the doctrine. The New Evangelical Subordinationism? Perspectives on the Equality of God the Father and God the Son (2012) brings together a number of writers from different sides of the debate. Bruce Ware and John Starke recently edited the book One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life (2015), which offers various arguments for--diverse forms of--ESS (Steve Holmes' highly critical review and Fred Sanders' friendlier review are both worthwhile reading). Mike Ovey's Your Will Be Done: Exploring Eternal Subordination, Divine Monarchy and Divine Humility (2016) is another recent book in support of the ESS position.

Many articles and reviews of books have been written on the subject. A few examples that I have seen referenced in the current debate include John Dahms, "The Subordination of the Son" (1994); Gilbert Bilezikian, "Hermeneutical Bungee-Jumping: Subordination in the Godhead" (1997); Stephen D. Kovach and Peter R. Schemm Jr., "A Defense of the Doctrine of the Eternal Subordination of the Son" (1999); Craig Keener, "Is Subordination Within the Trinity Really Heresy? A Study of John 5:18 in Context" (1999); Scott Swain and Michael Allen, 'The Obedience of the Eternal Son" (2013); D. Glenn Butner Jr., "Eternal Functional Subordination and the Problem of the Divine Will" (2015).

One of the most striking features of this material is the diversity of positions represented, even among people presumed to be on the same 'side'. Under closer examination, this is not a debate that tidily separates out into two distinct camps. A wide range of positions on several interconnected questions are represented within it, yet the differences are not always where one might expect them.

For instance, the doctrine of eternal generation is a complicating facet of the debate, cutting across apparent party lines. As I observed in my previous post, Grudem and Ware question this doctrine and tend to place the weight of divine self-differentiation upon eternal relations of authority and submission, quite a significant move and departure from the position taken by various other complementarian advocates of the eternal subordination of the Son. Kevin Giles has argued forcefully in favour of eternal generation, yet his fellow opponent of ESS Millard Erickson rejects the doctrine, in part on account of the connection drawn between it ESS in certain circles.

Reading some of the earlier articles in the debate is informative. Kovach and Schemm argued that ESS was the majority viewpoint among evangelical theologians in the twentieth century. In his response to Goligher and Trueman, Grudem also maintained that the ESS position had a strong evangelical pedigree. That both Charles Hodge (in 1871-1873, see his treatment of the Trinity in sixth chapter of the first volume of his Systematic Theology) and A.H. Strong (in 1907, see 619-620 of his Systematic Theology) appear to advocate some milder form of the position--and the latter compares it to relations between the sexes--tells against the claims of those asserting that the position is entirely a novelty of recent vintage, arrived at in order to support a theory of gender relations (a point upon which Giles agrees).

Nevertheless, the more modest stipulated definition Hodge provides for his use of the term 'subordination' in §2.A.4 of his chapter on the Trinity sets his account apart from the position of such as Grudem, who questions eternal generation and greatly elevates the themes of obedience and authority/submission. Besides, even a milder ESS position was not uncontroversial in the 19th century and most of the critics of ESS are not prepared to grant either that it flows untroubled within or naturally develops out from the Nicene tradition.

The slipperiness and equivocation in the use of key terms in these debates is a matter to which I will return. For now, I will observe that both the intense accenting of this doctrine and the proximity to theological anthropology into which it has been drawn do seem to represent more recent developments. Perhaps hairline fractures in poorly articulated doctrines of the Trinity have become more apparent and pronounced as those doctrines have been employed as heavy load-bearing ones in recent gender debates.

Craig Keener is also an interesting case: he is an egalitarian who argues for the subordination of the Son, and who observes--at the time of writing his article--that many other egalitarians he knows share that position, while some of his complementarian friends reject it as heretical. Like Andrew Perriman, Keener firmly resists accounts of gender roles derived from the Trinity, yet has an affinity with the more 'biblicist' and narrative-focused readings of the relationship between Father and Son offered by many complementarians (both Keener and Perriman largely sidestep the 'eternal' dimension of the subordination, as their interest is in the New Testament narrative).

The towering figure of Karl Barth has been an occasional and confusing presence in this debate. In Church Dogmatics, IV.1.202ff., for instance, Barth seemingly draws some of the connections that ESS advocating complementarians have drawn, speaking of God's inner life as involving a 'First and a Second, One who rules and commands in majesty and One who obeys in humility' (202). Barth also speaks of the wife as 'second and subordinate' and suggests that this relation can be clarified when seen in light of the Trinity. He also speaks of a 'twofoldness' of humanity that is 'a reflection of this likeness of the inner life of God Himself' (203).

Barth's account of subordination in the Trinity was highly contested among his theological successors, not least in disagreements between Colin Gunton and Thomas Torrance on the subject. Barth's connection between the obedience of the Son in the economy and his eternal generation is taken up by Swain and Allen. In his essay in Advancing Trinitarian Theology, Darren Sumner defends Barth's account of obedience and subordination in the Trinity, while demonstrating the problems with a selective adoption of Barth on this point. Barth's approach only works within the context of his broader theological framework, a framework that would not be welcomed by most evangelicals. Josh Gillies discusses Barth further here. The work of Bruce McCormack, who develops Barth's actualist Christological ontology in the direction of a Reformed kenoticism, should also be mentioned here (along with a warning that his approach cannot be appropriated piecemeal in support of a complementarian ESS position).

The examples of Giles and Erickson can provide a sense of some further complexities of the debate. As I've already noted, Erickson rejects the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son, while Giles staunchly defends it. Although he now seems to be rather more reticent in advocating such a doctrine, seemingly preferring to advocate a 'communal' Trinitarianism, Giles has formerly aligned himself with Erickson's social Trinitarianism: 'The Trinity is a communion of three persons, three centers of consciousness, who exist and always have existed in union with one another and in dependence on one another.' He has also presented such a doctrine of the Trinity as grounding an egalitarian social agenda, appealing to both Jürgen Moltmann and Leonardo Boff (see The Trinity & Subordinationism, 101ff.). Such a position would fall under many of the same strictures as ESS.

Finally, more subtle differences in Trinitarian theology can sometimes surface in this debate between complementarians and egalitarians, even when both deny ESS. Characteristic of some forms of egalitarian Trinitarianism seems to be a minimalistic account of Trinitarian taxis and of the relationship between the economic missions and the processions of the immanent Trinity. Erickson, favourably cited by Giles, writes:

"There is no permanent distinction of one from the other in terms of origination. While the Father may be the cause of the existence of the Son and the Spirit, they are also mutually the cause of his existence and the existence of one another. There is an eternal symmetry of all three persons" (The Trinity & Subordinationism, 103).

It should be borne in mind that it is not only complementarians who are at risk of reading their ideals of community and relations into and out from the Triune life of God.

Within my next post I will outline what I believe to be some of the principal questions that need to be addressed in the current debate.

The most recent eruption of the eternal subordination of the Son controversy began with a couple of provocative posts by Liam Goligher, pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, over on Aimee Byrd's Housewife Theologian blog.    

Goligher's posts sharply criticized advocates of the eternal subordination of the Son position (hereafter ESS) for projecting the subordination of the Son to the Father within the work of redemption (the economic Trinity) back into the inner life of God (the immanent Trinity). Within his posts, he accuses those who teach the eternal subordination of the Son of 'reinventing the doctrine of God' and 'doing great dishonor to Christ.'   

The eternal subordination of the Son has been a popular doctrine in certain complementarian contexts, being used either to ground the submission of women and authority of men in the life of the Trinity, or, perhaps more commonly, to defend such a position against the charge that naturally hierarchical relations are necessarily oppressive by means of a weak analogy. Goligher implies that, in order to advance a legalistic account of gender roles, a certain group of complementarians are wittingly yet surreptitiously moving the Church away from the historic form of its Trinitarian faith. He concludes:   

Before we jettison the classical, catholic, orthodox and reformed understanding of God as He is we need to carefully weigh what is at stake - our own and our hearers' eternal destiny.   

Carl Trueman soon joined his voice to Goligher's. In both Trueman and Goligher's pieces, the controversy is framed as one between different forms of complementarianism.  Given these initial salvoes, it is unsurprising that the ensuing controversy has been a fraught and occasionally quite an unedifying one. In Goligher's posts, the stakes of the discussion were ramped up from the outset, suggesting conscious divergence from historic Trinitarian orthodoxy on the part of complementation ESS advocates.   

Friction between opposing visions of complementarianism is an important aspect of these fault lines and a matter to which I will return at a later point. While the doctrine of the Trinity is the epicentre of dispute in this instance, it is a point where far broader institutional and theological systems and visions are colliding. Once such political tectonics are appreciated, both the theological alignments in and the rhetorical temper of the debate may start to make more sense.

The principal initial responses to Goligher and Trueman came from Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem. Both Ware and Grudem insisted that their position was in keeping with Nicene orthodoxy, had historical precedent, and was firmly grounded in the scriptural witness. As representatives of the ESS position, Ware and Grudem's stance is greatly complicated by the fact that both of them have questioned the historic doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son in the past--a doctrine that many in their own camp would strongly advocate--and have grounded divine self-differentiation within relationships of authority and submission. Grudem and Ware's defences of the ESS position have since been joined by those of Denny Burk, Mike Ovey (who has recently written a book on the subject), and Owen Strachan.    

Although the controversy has predictably excited considerable party sentiment, despite its heat it has also occasioned much light and some valuable engagement. There is good reason to hope that it might yet prove to have been a profitable one. The last week has witnessed a multitude of posts and comments, addressing the matter from a host of different angles. Even where party spirit has been in evidence, there have been some extremely constructive, clarifying, challenging, insightful, and generally worthwhile contributions to the conversation. The following are a few examples.   

Derek Rishmawy argues for the usefulness of Trinitarian controversy, properly engaged, in developing a theological awareness that is often lacking in the Church. Andrew Wilson provides a brief survey of the issues currently under debate. The inimitable Fred Sanders offers 18 theses on the Father and the Son, challenging, among other things, egalitarian attempts to flatten out the distinctions among the Triune persons and complementarian 'overdrawing' of them. Darren Sumner gets into some of the theological issues at stake in connecting the relations of origin of the immanent Trinity with the missions of the economic Trinity. The importance of having a clear theological understanding of the relationship between the will of God and of Christ's divine and human natures is emphasized in these posts by Mark Jones. Andrew Perriman highlights the need for greater communication between biblical and systematic theologians in the task of Christology, observing theological failure to engage closely and attentively with the scriptural narrative. Luke Stamps also laments the lack of interaction between theological sub-disciplines, arguing for the need for exegetes who are well acquainted with the history of interpretation. Finally, Glenn Butner, Michel Barnes, and Lewis Ayres each provide some clarity on some of the contested historical details.   

In my next post, I will review some of the literature surrounding the question.
Many of you are no doubt aware of the current controversy within the Reformed complementarian community about the issue of grounding male and female roles of subordination in the inner-Trinitarian life of the Godhead. The desire to establish the rationale for how men and women relate to one another in how the persons of the Triune Godhead relate to one another certainly has the initial appearance of soundness and wisdom. But the reality is significantly more complex than a prima facie reading of the situation would reveal. Good men stand on both sides of this dispute and I do not claim to have read every last blog post or Twitter feed on the matter. I am not concerned with personalities so names will be left out of my musings. I do take a side in the controversy. I side with the classical consideration of the Triune nature of our great and glorious God that stems from the Nicene tradition (perhaps all sides of this debate could read Lewis Ayer's Nicaea and It's Legacy and ponder its detail?).

Discussion of the Trinity is necessary and hashing out the intricate issues is healthy. I am mindful of Saint Augustine's warning about dealing with the Trinitarian glory of our God. At the beginning of his monumental De Trinitate (On the Trinity) the bishop of Hippo Rhegius noted that there was nothing more treacherous than approaching the hallowed ground of Trinitarian theology. At the same time there is nothing more rewarding and soul-stretching. I do want to avoid turning meditations on the Trinity into a geometrical puzzle that needs solving. That is not my desire. I hope to shed a modicum of light on the present impasse. First I will say something about deriving guidelines of male-female relations from the inner-Trinitarian life of God. Second, I will offer a thought or two on the technical matter of subordinationism in theological formulations. Third, I want to say something about how the covenant of redemption relates to this discussion. Fourth, and finally, I want to conclude with a pastoral note.

I think there is a helpful way to draw implications for male-female relations from the relations of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as long as we recognize certain limitations. The first limitation is the Creator/creature distinction. God is not just some bigger, better form of us. God is also incomprehensible. While we can have true knowledge about God and his ways with us, we never possess exhaustive knowledge of God. By definition only God has infinite, exhaustive knowledge of himself and his plan of redemption. Because God has revealed himself to us (in this case, he has revealed to us something of his Trinitarian nature) what we do know is true and not the product of our imaginations as long as what we think conforms to and is consistent with his revelation. Related to the above, our knowledge and theological language is analogical. That is, it is neither univocal (or identical with God's self-knowledge) nor equivocal (completely different from God's knowledge).

What can we say about how men and women are to relate to one another from the Trinitarian nature of God? I think we can say, as Paul does in 1st Corinthians 11:3 that Christ is the head of the husband, the husband the head of his wife, and God the head of Christ. But we need to reckon with some distinctions as we seek to properly understand this text and apply it in our lives. Paul is talking here about Christ's relation to the Father as it exists in the economy of redemption. In other words, we are not talking about the relation of the Son to the Father outside of and apart from the execution of the plan of redemption in time and space. Christ is spoken of here as the God-man Mediator, not as he was in his pre-incarnate state. The wife submits to her husband as the God-man Mediator submits to the Father in the economy of redemption. This filial submission was voluntary for the purpose of redeeming a people for the Son's possession.

Second, we rightly seek to avoid subordinationist language when discussing the internal relations of the persons of the Trinity. John Calvin, I believe, furthered Trinitarian theology when he helpfully noted that the Son of God, considered as to his godness or divinity, is autotheos. The son as to his divine essence is co-equal with the Father and the Spirit. There is no subordination here. But as to his person the Son is derived from the Father and the Spirit is derived from the Father and the Son. Theologians such as Geerhardus Vos (Reformed Dogmatics 1.3.12.c & d) and Sam Waldron (Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith) discuss subordinationism and reject ontological subordination of the Son to the Father. However, they seem to allow for a kind of subordination of manner of existence and mode of operation. The mode of operation is what I have already referred to here as economic subordination for the purpose of redemption. The manner of existence subordination has to do with the fact that the Father is unbegotten and begets the Son, the Son is begotten, and the Spirit is not begotten but proceeds. It is arguable whether applying the moniker "subordination" is appropriate for consideration of the personal properties of the divine persons or their ordering or taxis. The only seemingly appropriate use of subordination language regards economic subordination. This is what Paul describes in Phil.2:5-9 and what we see throughout the gospels as we see how Jesus relates to the Father. Why is this even an issue? If the Son is essentially subordinate to the Father, then he is a demi-god who cannot save us from our sins. It's that basic.

Third, I want to bring this conversation into contact with what our theology says about the covenant of redemption or pactum salutis or covenant of peace. The covenant of redemption is that covenant that the Father, Son, and Spirit entered into to save a people out of sin and misery. In this pre-temporal covenant (which we can see evidence of in John 17, for instance), the Son agreed to take to himself a "true body, and a reasonable soul" (WSC 22). This was a completely voluntary act on the Son's part. The Father did not arm twist or cajole the Son into becoming incarnate for our sakes. The Son determined to become incarnate and live a lowly life and die an excruciating death in order to glorify the Father (who in turn glorified the Son) and to redeem lost sinners. While the nature of the Son's personal properties does lead to his incarnation, to make the incarnation and work of redemption arise from the subordinate nature of the Son's relation to the Father is to verge on removing the voluntary nature of the Son's work. Undoubtedly there is more work to be done here or at the very least, more study of what the church has already said instead of thinking we need to reinvent the wheel every time we do exegesis or biblical theology.

Fourth, and finally, we need to be cognizant of the pastoral implications of this dispute. Theological controversy is not to be avoided simply because it is controversial. Jesus himself had an ongoing controversy with the religious leaders of his day. I have been interacting with more than a few laymen who do not know what to make of this current civil war in the ranks of Reformed complementarians. I have tried to stress that theological controversy can be healthy (I am, after all, a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and so am gladly one of "Machen's warrior children") and that we should not be overwrought about doctrinal disputes as such. There are, of course, proper ways to conduct theological disputation. But I am not personally bothered by vehemence or the passionate presentation of an argument. However, we do need to reckon with how a dispute is seen by laity and even those outside the church. This controversy can lead to greater understanding of our great and glorious God if it is conducted in a biblical, godly way. We should focus on the issues rather than on personalities. I do need to note that we live in a day and age when we hate to challenge anyone's orthodoxy. I am not providing license to heresy hunters or discernment bloggers. But truth matters. Orthodoxy is not a dirty word. The nature of God's Triune being as it is revealed in Scripture is paramount.

In conclusion, while we can derive some conclusions about how men and women relate to one another by considering the role relations of the persons of the Triune Godhead, we need to recognize the limits of our knowledge. We need to use technical terms like subordination clearly and carefully and where we are nuancing our use it should be clearly stated that that is what we are doing. We need to reckon with how the covenant of redemption relates to this whole discussion. And we need to remember that this controversy is not just an academic disputation but has pastoral implications. We need to debate in a godly manner.

Editorial Note: Our friends, Carl Trueman and Liam Goligher, have raised concerns about the Trinitarian theology employed by some scholars who support gender complementarianism (see thisthis and this posting). Ref21 is pleased to publish a response from Dr. Bruce Ware.  While letting Dr. Ware speak for himself (and not as representing any official position of the Alliance), we hope this reply will clarify both the issues and the specific views held by our fellow evangelicals.

Postings in recent days by Liam Goligher and Carl Trueman have sought to spotlight what they perceive to be possible departures from orthodoxy by those evangelicals who affirm an eternal relation of authority and submission among the Trinitarian persons. The charges in these postings are serious but in our judgment false. They accuse us of things that we explicitly deny and they do not represent our view fairly. Some brief reply seems appropriate. 

First, what is never stated by Goligher or Trueman (perhaps just an oversight?) is this: those who affirm the eternal authority of the Father and submission of the Son uniformly and adamantly affirm also the full deity of the Son, that the Son is homoousios with the Father, and that the Father and Son, along with the Spirit, each possesses the identically same one, undivided, and co-eternal divine nature. There is no hint of Arian subordinationism or of tri-theism in what is being proposed by advocates of this intra-Trinitarian relationship of authority and submission. One may, if one chooses, level the charge that our view entails a denial of homoousios, or that it implies tri-theism, or the like. But be clear, such supposed entailments or implications are not only denied but are strongly refuted by advocates of our view. We stand fully with the early ecumenical councils in embracing all that they say about the eternal deity of the Son and the full unity and co-eternality of the one God who is three. And we reject all forms of ontological subordinationism in affirming the full, unqualified, co-eternal deity of the Son, with the Father and the Spirit. 

Second, positing an eternal relation of authority and submission among the Trinitarian persons does not conflict in any way with this orthodox heritage, because the issue here is how the three persons function as Father, Son, and Spirit, not whether one has a nature that is superior to or inferior to another (the latter, of course, is flatly denied). At the ontological level, there is absolute equality of deity as all three share fully in the one and undivided divine nature. But at the functional level, in the roles that each carries out, they can be - must be! - distinguished from one another. To take the most obvious example, only the Son - not the Father, nor the Spirit - embraced the role of becoming incarnate. So, yes, while there is an inseparability of operations among the Trinitarian persons, this does not, and cannot, mean that the Trinitarian operations are not distinguishable from one another. Distinguishable, yet inseparable - this is not only consistent with the pro-Nicene heritage, it is demanded by Scripture. 

Third, one of the ways Scripture presses the distinction among the roles of the Trinitarian persons is by highlighting the ultimate authority of the Father, and the willing submission of the Son and Spirit, in all that God does. To cite here just one text, consider the opening of Hebrews: 

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world (Hebrews 1:1-2). 

The primacy of the Father (in role, not in nature!) is evident by noting the subject and verb in each of the clauses: 

God . . . spoke long ago to the fathers (1a) 
God . . . has spoken to us in His Son (2a) 
God . . . appointed [the Son] heir of all things (2b) 
God . . . made the world [through the Son] (2c) 

It could not be clearer or more precise that it is the Father specifically, not God generically or another other member of the Trinity, who does all of these activities through the agency of the Son and Spirit. Furthermore, what this brief text demonstrates is the primacy of the Father, in relation to his Son, in eternity past ("through whom he made the world"), in the incarnation ("in these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son"), and in eternity future ("whom He appointed heir of all things"). Interestingly, this text also shows the primacy of the Father over the work of the Spirit in its opening declaration ("God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways"), assuming as Hebrews even states several times (e.g., Heb 3:7; 10:15), that the Spirit is the Trinitarian person most directly associated with moving the prophets to speak what they did. Yet here we see that the Father directed the Spirit, who in turn directed the prophets. 

What we see, then, is this: Because the Father is the eternal Father of the eternal Son, the Father always acts in ways that befit who he distinctively is as Father such that, among other things, he eternally possesses and expresses Fatherly authority; the Son as the eternal Son of the eternal Father correspondingly always acts in ways that befit who he distinctively is as Son such that, among other things, he eternally possesses and expresses a submission to act gladly and freely as Agent of the Father. The Bible's discussion of the roles and functions of the Trinitarian persons points to this repeatedly. The Father sends and the Son goes. The Father plans and the Son executes the plan of the Father. The Father designs and the Son implements the design of the Father. One never finds the reverse. One never sees the Son commanding and the Father obeying, the Son sending and the Father going. There is a stubborn irreversibility in the outworking of the Trinitarian roles, along with other clear, unambiguous teaching that the Son is fully equal to and one with the Father. 

To press this point a bit further, notice that the Father elects us in the Son (Eph. 1:4-5), creates the world through the Son (John 1:2, 1 Cor 8:6, Heb 1:2), sends the Son into the world (John 3:16), and delegates judgment to the Son (Rev 2:27), while the Son after his Ascension sits at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:32-35), receives from the Father the authority to pour forth the Holy Spirit in New Covenant fullness (Matt 28:18; Acts 2:33), makes intercession before the Father (Heb 7:25), receives revelation from the Father to give to the church (Rev 1:1), and will eternally be subject to the Father (1 Cor. 15:26-28). Again, not one of these relationships is ever reversed - the Son does not elect us in the Father, does not create the world through the Father, does not send the Father into the world, does not delegate judgment to the Father, nor does the Father sit at the right hand of the Son, or bring intercessory prayers to the Son, or receive revelation from the Son to give to the church, or become eternally subject to the Son. 

We agree that the actions of any one divine person involves the other Trinitarian persons in corresponding ways. But whenever Scripture specifies actions that occur between two or more members of the Trinity, the position of greater authority is always held by the Father, while the position of submission to that authority is always held by the Son and the Spirit. This principle is simply inviolable in Scripture. 

God the Son, then, is both God and Son. As God, he is fully equal with God the Father, in that both Father and Son possess fully the identically same and eternal divine nature. As such, the equality between the Father and Son (and Spirit) could not be stronger - they are equal to each other with an equality of identity (i.e., each possesses fully the identically same divine nature). As Son, the Son is always the Son of the Father and is so eternally. As Son of the Father, he is under the authority of his Father and seeks in all he does to act as the Agent of the Father's will, working and doing all that the Father has purposed and designed for his Son to accomplish. The eternal Son, God the Son, is both fully God and fully equal to the Father, while he is fully Son and eternally in a relationship of Agent of the Father, carrying out the work and implementing the will of the Father in full submission and obedience to all that the Father has planned. God and Son, i.e., fully God (in nature) and fully Son (in person)--this is who this Second Person of the Trinity is as Hebrews, John, and the New Testament declare. 

Fourth, none of this glorious Trinitarian theology is being devised for the purpose of supporting a social agenda of human relations of equality and complementarity. I do believe there is intended correspondence, indeed. But that is a far cry from saying that we are "reformulating" the doctrine of the Trinity to serve our social purposes. God forbid! Let God be God, regardless of what implications may or may not follow! And may our sole aim be to know the true God through his self-revelation in Scripture--the one and only true God, who is God only as he is Father, Son, and Spirit. 

Bruce A. Ware 
Professor of Christian Theology 
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Three Mistakes to Avoid in Good Friday Preaching

Preaching "Christ and him crucified" is core to the job description of any minister of the Christian gospel (1 Corinthians 2:2).  Good Friday drives this home more than any other day in the church calendar. On that day, the preacher's task is to proclaim and explain why the bloody spectacle of the Son of God murdered upon Golgotha is "good news." How is this moral rupture the center of God's great act of atonement--of God reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19)? 

Christ's cross itself has always provoked hostility and scorn whether among pagan Greeks or Jews and is, in many ways, no easier to stomach now than it was then; it still confronts us with our sins and bids the old Adam to come, submit to death, so that the New Adam may rise to new life. But that's not the only difficulty involved. 

The fact of the matter is that many have rightly recoiled at some of the defective ways pastors have preached the cross--especially its penal and substitutionary dimensions--in the past. When we make mistakes in this area, it's easy to give people a distorted and destructive view of both God and the gospel. This is tragic. Both because we deprive people of the beauty of the cross, but also because, as C.S. Lewis points out, the more powerful and good something is, the more destructive it can be if it goes wrong. Much as a doctor cannot be careless in wielding a life-saving scalpel, so preachers cannot treat the preaching of the cross lightly or carelessly lest we bring death instead of life. 

While there are a number of ways preaching the cross can go wrong, here are three key mistakes to avoid in your preaching of the cross this Good Friday. 

Don't Break Up the Trinity

One popular, but dangerous, mistake that gets made is to speak as if the cross was an event that momentarily split the Trinity up into pieces. We sing hymns with lines like "The Father turned his face away" and think that on the cross God the Father poured out his judgment on God the Son in such a way that the eternal Father is somehow ontologically or spiritually separated from God the Son. To suggest this is to teach a split in the being of the eternal, unchangeable, perfect life of the Father, Son, and Spirit, which is unthinkable. 

What's more, this is not the historic, orthodox view of penal substitution--at least not as we encounter it in the best teachers in church history. John Calvin himself is quite clear on this:
Yet we do not suggest that God was ever inimical or angry toward him. How could he be angry toward his beloved Son, "in whom his heart reposed" [cf. Matthew 3:17]? How could Christ by his intercession appease the Father toward others, if he were himself hateful to God? This is what we are saying: he bore the weight of divine severity, since he was "stricken and afflicted" [cf. Isaiah 53:5] by God's hand, and experienced all the signs of a wrathful and avenging God (Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.xvi.11)
This is where having a properly Chalcedonian Christology matters. We have to remember that Christ the Mediator is not solely divine, nor solely human precisely because he is fully divine and fully human. The teaching of Scripture is that divine, eternal, perfect Son assumed human nature (adding humanity) to himself in the incarnation in order that he might live, die, and rise again on our behalf as man (John 1:1-14; Col. 1:15-20; 2:8). This is why Calvin (along with the Fathers), said it is appropriate to speak of some realities being "according to" his divine nature (eternality, omnipotence, etc) and others according to his human nature (thirst, hunger, sleepiness) even though they are both properly spoken of Christ as he is one person in two natures.

When we speak of the Son suffering the consequences of sin, judgment, the wrath, or the abandonment of God on the cross, we speak truly, but we speak these things according to his human nature. You have to be able to say that the divine Son suffered these things because Jesus is the divine Son. But you also have to say that the Son suffered them according to his human nature. This is not a dodge or over-subtle, logic-chopping. This is the metaphysical logic of the incarnation--God is unchangeable and impassible. God cannot suffer in his own nature, so the Son takes on our nature in order to suffer with and for us in his human nature, which is now really and truly his, alongside and on behalf of his brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:14). God the Son suffers and dies in his human nature. 
In other words, if you forget orthodox Christology in the preaching of the cross, you'll be in danger of losing the Trinity and the gospel itself. 

Don't Forget--Love Comes First

A second mistake we can make in preaching the atonement is connected to the first. Many critics have rejected the atonement as the satisfaction of God's justice and wrath because they've gotten the impression that somehow the picture is about a loving Jesus going to the cross in order to satisfy an angry Father who's just out for blood. And even when it's not explicitly taught this way, unless corrected, many people in the pews can get the impression that God somehow has to be convinced he ought to be merciful. 

But this is not what we see in Scripture. Instead, we have a portrait of the triune God of holy love who purposes from all eternity to redeem sinners for himself, before it ever entered their minds to repent he looked to embrace us in Christ (Eph. 1:4-5; 1 Peter 1:20). God revealed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, cursing God with every breath, that the Son came to die for us (Romans 5:8).  God doesn't have to be convinced or persuaded to love us, nor does the Father need to be convinced by the Son. 

Indeed, Jesus makes it clear that the Father loves the Son precisely because the Son goes willingly to lay down his life for the sheep just as the Father desires because of his great love for us (John 10:14-18).  Hebrews makes clear that the Son does so in the power of the Spirit (Hebrews 9:14). This is the triune shape of the gospel: Father, Son, and Spirit beautifully and harmoniously accomplishing the salvation of sinners. 

In that case, we have to understand that God is not moved from wrath to love because of the death of Christ. He is moved by love to satisfy his wrath (ie. judicial opposition to sin) against us by removing our guilt and enmity through the blood of his cross. Whatever else our people understand, they must see that mercy and grace are God's idea and accomplishment before it ever enters our minds, because God, by his very nature, is love.

It's Not All About Wrath  

Finally, I've focused on issues connected to wrath and punishment simply because Reformed and Evangelical preaching tends to focus on some form of penal substitution in its cross-preaching. Don't forget, though, that the cross is about much more than those issues. Scripture is clear that Christ got a lot of work done in his life, death, and resurrection. Herman Bavinck notes the diversity of the New Testament witness at this point and says, "Like the person, the work of Christ is so multifaceted that it cannot be captured in a single word nor summarized in a single formula." We must remember not to sideline the various other aspects of Christ's cross-work. 

For instance, when was the last time you preached on Christ's conquering over the powers of sin, death, and the devil? The drama of the gospel isn't only about interpersonal reconciliation between God and humanity, but about the liberation of God's people from the clutches of his enemies. The same apostle John who tells us that Christ came to make atonement for sin (1 John 2:2) also came to utterly destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) . Paul says that through his death for our sins, Christ removed the record of transgressions that stood against us, bringing our forgiveness, and thereby disarming the powers and principalities (Colossians 2:13-15). Satan can no longer accuse the saints (Revelation 12:10-12). In doing so he liberates us from guilt and the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14). 

And this is just one of the many aspects of Christ's multi-faceted work on the cross beyond the satisfaction of God's justice. 

We need to be careful, then, to avoid giving our people a lopsided view of the cross so that they might begin to perceive the height, breath, and depth of the good news of Good Friday.

Derek Rishmawy is a Ph.D. student in Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois. He writes regularly at

The question of religious or spiritual unity between Christians and Muslims has come up in recent days, largely in response to political debate over the danger of admitting Muslims into our country.  On one extreme was the purported statement by Liberty University President Jerry Fallwell, Jr. that Christians should carry guns so as to kill Muslims.  In response, Wheaton College students wrote of Christians' obligation to pursue unity and solidarity with Muslims based on our shared human dignity.  Larycia Hawkins, an associate professor at Wheaton, , has gone further by donning a Muslim headscarf and declaring not only her human solidarity but her theological solidarity with Muslims.  She validated the proposition that "Muslims and Christians worship the same God."  Reacting to this statement, Wheaton College has suspended Hawkins pending an inquiry into her violation of the college's doctrinal statement.  Wheaton should be commended for acting clearly but also deliberately and fairly in this matter.

There are various issues in this debate that Christians should carefully consider and on which we may legitimately differ.  But whether or not Christians and Muslims worship the same God is not one of them.  Let me offer three reasons why Christians must steadfastly declare that we do not worship the same God that Muslims do:

1.       The Christian Doctrine of the Trinity.  The Bible proclaims that there is one God in three distinct persons.  Jesus therefore instituted baptism "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt. 28:19).  Muslims vehemently deny and condemn this teaching, seeing it as a fatal compromise of its central tenet of monotheism.  This means that Islam denies the deity of Jesus Christ, saying, "the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was nothing more than a messenger of God" (Qur'an, sura 4).  This means that Muslims profess belief in a God who is fundamentally different from the God of the Bible in his very nature. 

2.       God Revealed in Christ vs. Mohammed.  In her statement of solidarity with Muslims, Dr. Hawkins stated that Christians and Muslims are both "People of the Book."  The question is, of course, which book?  While Islam shows a certain measure of respect to the Old Testament, it holds that God's chief revelation came through Mohammed, a man of considerable violence.  Christians believe in a God whose chief revelation is through Jesus Christ, God's Son and the world's only Savior, as he is presented by the prophets and apostles in the Bible.  To put it mildly, there is a fundamental difference between those who look to Mohammed versus to Jesus for their belief in God. 

3.       The God of Grace.  The God of Islam shows grace only to those who merit his approval by faith and good works.  The Christian God distinguishes his grace by bestowing it upon the unworthy and defiled.  Paul's teaching that "God justifies the ungodly" (Rom. 4:5) and through Christ's death showed "his love for us while we were still sinners" (Rom. 5:8), is fundamentally at odds with the Muslim belief concerning God.  So while Muslims and Christians both use the terminology of grace, Islam denies the grace of God on which Christians rely for their salvation.

However laudible it may be for Christians to express kindness and human solidarity with members of other religions, the one thing we must never do is deny our faith in the Triune God who is revealed through Jesus Christ, God's Son, who alone died to free us from our sins.  In denying the exclusivity of our faith, apart from all other religions, Christians are not exhibiting the love of Jesus.  At the very heart of our message to the world we must always affirm - all the more so during the Christmas season - that Jesus alone is Savior and Lord.  As John declared, "In him was life, and that life was the light of men" (Jn. 1:4).

Transfigured Hermeneutics - Introduction

The Transfiguration holds great significance within the narratives of the Synoptic gospels and considerable promise for Christian theological reflection more generally. Yet it receives relatively little attention in many quarters, its importance lying underappreciated and unexplored. This neglect may arise in part from the apparently irruptive character of the event; to many, the glory of Christ witnessed at the Transfiguration may seem akin to an actor who has mistaken his cue and prematurely burst onto the stage. Much as the special musical episode of a TV series, the Transfiguration accounts appear to many as if detached from--or, at the least, uncertainly related to--the gospels' narrative progression, its dramatic revelation of Jesus' glory incongruous with the veiling of that glory in the accounts that surround it.

The purpose of this ten part series of posts is to establish the importance of the event of the Transfiguration and explore its theological potential. In my opening posts I will begin by examining the event within its immediate literary context in the gospels, gradually expanding the horizon of my enquiry to situate the event within the large sweep of redemptive history, before devoting close attention to the Transfiguration's fruitfulness for our theological reflection and Scriptural reading.

Baptism and Transfiguration

A more adequate appreciation of the Transfiguration will probably need to begin by demonstrating ways in which the event relates to the larger sweep of the gospel and to the Scriptures as a whole. The Transfiguration occurs at a pivotal moment in the gospel narratives, immediately after Jesus' first teaching concerning his death and Peter's confession. From this point onwards, Jesus' face is set towards Jerusalem.

Jesus' baptism and his transfiguration are correlated in a number of respects. If Jesus' baptism by John in the Jordan was the revelation of his identity that initiated the first stage of his ministry, the Transfiguration is the revelation of his glory associated with the second stage of his ministry, leading up to the crucifixion.

The two events have a number of parallels and relationships that emerge within the literary structure of the narrative. Both are preceded by clear testimony to Jesus' Messiahship, against the backdrop of the crowd's speculations (e.g. Luke 3:15-17; 9:7-9, 18-20). Prior to Jesus' baptism, John the Baptist bears witness to him as the coming One; prior to the Transfiguration, Peter declares Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. John the Baptist's death shortly precedes the Transfiguration, bringing the chapter of the gospels framed by his ministry to a close. Herod and the crowds are speculating whether Jesus is John redivivus (9:7-9) and it is at this point that the true nature of John's mission was revealed and both its preparatory relationship to and similarity with Jesus' own highlighted:
And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?"
Jesus answered and said to them, "Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist (Matthew 17:10-13)

John the Baptist, the Elijah that was to come, has gone first and been put to death. Now the time has come for Jesus to make his way towards his own death (the speculations about John the Baptist's resurrection, mentioned in Luke 9:7, may also represent an interesting parallel with Jesus' own resurrection). John's work was a preparation of the building site, a felling of trees and a purging of the threshing floor (Matthew 3:10-12 ); just before the Transfiguration, Jesus announces the start of the great building project (Matthew 16:17-19). Both the Baptism and the Transfiguration are followed by a showdown with Satan and his demons--Jesus overcomes the tempter in the wilderness following his baptism and casts out the unclean spirit in the child after descending from the Mount of Transfiguration. He then passes through Galilee to stay in Capernaum (Matthew 4:12-13; 17:22-24).

The events of the Baptism and Transfiguration themselves are similar in some noteworthy respects. When he was baptized, the Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and the Father's voice declared Jesus to be his beloved Son, in whom he was well pleased. At the Transfiguration, the Spirit descends in the form of the bright glory cloud [2] and the voice of the Father announces that Jesus is the Chosen Son, and that the disciples should hear him. Understood in such a manner, both the Baptism and the Transfiguration are overtly Trinitarian theophanies. In Luke's gospel, there is also a characteristic emphasis upon prayer common to both accounts: both of the events occur while Jesus is praying (3:21-22; 9:29). Such associations between the Baptism and the Transfiguration--great disclosures of Christ's glory and mission that initiate successive stages of his earthly ministry--are indications, far from being an anomalous event within the larger plot, the Transfiguration may be structurally integral to the progression of the gospel narratives.

Alastair Roberts did his doctoral studies in Theology in Durham University. He is one of the participants in the Mere Fidelity podcast and is also the contributing editor of the Politics of Scripture series on the Political Theology Today blog. He blogs at Alastair's Adversaria and tweets using @zugzwanged


[1]  Solomon's Temple was built on a threshing floor (2 Chronicles 3:1) and John the Baptist alludes to a prophecy about purifying Temple worship in his statement about purging the threshing floor (Malachi 3:1-3).
[2] See Meredith Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority [second edition] (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1997), pp.201-202 on the connection between the Spirit and the glory cloud.

Katherine Sonderegger and the Divine Oneness as Foundational Perfection

Last time, I proposed to share with you my 'reading notes' on Katherine Sonderegger's new Systematic Theology, Volume 1: The Doctrine of God

There are plenty of big books in the world to which one could commit cash and time. Why this one? Well, my answer to that is a bit of a hunch: I heard Prof Sonderegger present a paper at a conference and I was impressed by three things: her commitment to listening to the voice of Scripture, her elegant literary style (she really has an ear for English prose), and her determination to press theological ideas a very long way indeed. 

I haven't been disappointed in picking up this stout volume of her work, though I have been daunted at times. That is not because Sonderegger parades her learning, or attempts to intimidate by being opaque. On the contrary: in reading this theology, one feels as if one is experiencing theology as it really should be done. And that is hard but rewarding work. 

Having established her beginning point with the Oneness of God - a surprising challenge to the fashionable determination to start with the Three - Sonderegger subsequently turns to an examination of the Divine Oneness as the foundational perfection. That is a measure of how seriously she takes the divine unity - there is no gainsaying or surpassing it as a perfection of God. And that is, as she writes, something that 'beckons us into the mystery of God' - by which Sonderegger means it draws us into prayer, and to worship. Divine Oneness is 'contemplated on bended knee'. It is something that Israel heard when they encountered God at the foot of the mountain, and trembled. 

What is it for 'Oneness' to be a 'foundational predicate' of God? It means that all the other things we might validly say about God are 'governed and determined' by Oneness.  The corollary is naturally the strong prohibition throughout Scripture against idolatry. Not only does Scripture testify that God is supreme, and that he is not accompanied by a queen-god, but God does not look like anything. He is without likeness on the earth. He is not to be paired with any material, visible thing. But importantly, he is not a concept or an idea, either. 

This is pushing the notion of this divine Oneness a long way, and rightly: "We do not approach God's Holy Oneness any more powerfully by examining our general concepts and ideals than we do by examining trees, and human faces, and sunsets. God is One, this very One: God is concrete, superabundantly particular." (p. 27)

How do we then know God? It is enough at this stage for Sonderegger to state that, as we do know him, we are confronted by mystery. This is the immortal, invisible, God only wise, ineffably sublime. And yet, he is known, as he declares himself, through the Scriptures, where we hear his voice. 

In contemporary terms, we might say that God is free, and radically so. He is not constrained by comparison. He is not a member of a class, or a set. And, echoing Barth, Sondereggar notes that God's freedom has its impact in the world not to enslave but to free those who draw near to him. This is not then a meditation on a concept of God's freedom, but a reflection on what God's freedom actually achieves in the history of Israel, and in the history of Jesus Christ. 

That is: God is free, not constrained by some human plaything, some statute or item. He is not for us to imagine into being through our comparison of him with mute beasts, or with great human beings. There is not to be found, nor thought, his likeness in the earth. Yet, this is not simply a dissolving of God's reality into a vast blackness of negativity, where we say only what God is not and not what he is. For Sonderegger, negating the form, image, or likeness of God is merely what creatures must do to affirm the reality of the Divine Oneness and Freedom. 

I am not sure that I wish to carp at all with what Sondereggar has drawn out from this affirmation of the Divine Oneness as foundational predicate. Perhaps we could add some things that the Professor no doubt would also add: the Oneness means that all the other things we might say about God must be held together - he is not the Almighty God on Monday, and the Merciful God on Tuesday. Rather, might must modify mercy, and vice versa. The Oneness will also mean that the history of his actions is one single history, not a disconnected and arbitrary series of events. History itself, as creation too, emanates from the one source, and no other. 

But to affirm the Divine Oneness is to recognize that the divine being is so deep, so without parallel, so uncompromised and untainted, so holy, that it is probably time to quit these inadequate meditations and simply fall to praise, confession, and thanksgiving. 

Michael P Jensen is the rector of St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point, Sydney, and the author of Martyrdom and Identity: the Self on Trial and Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology

The Three Greatest Reasons Christ Loves You

If a preacher had one sermon to preach to unbelievers he would likely preach something that follows the Apostolic pattern in the book of Acts. But what about when faced with the chance to give just one message to those who are Christians? Here there is, naturally, a lot more liberty. 

Usually, when I'm faced with a situation where I may never see the Christians I'm speaking to again this side of eternity, I speak to them about truths that are of special significance to Christians, such as the love Christ has for his bride (Eph. 3:19).

The Puritans sometimes get a bad rap for their theology, especially in the area of assurance of salvation. Yet, I gained full assurance of salvation from reading a Puritan, Thomas Goodwin. No Continental writer has quite given me a sense of Christ's love for me in the way that Goodwin did when I first read him on the heart of Christ in heaven towards sinners on earth. 

So, if you ask me what topic would I speak to Christians about if I had only one study/sermon, it would probably focus on the love of Christ for the church. Indeed, I recently had the privilege of speaking on the love of Christ for his bride in Brazil when I was asked to give an impromptu bible study one evening. 

How do you (a Christian) know that Christ loves you? How can you be assured of his love for you? Here below are what I believe are the three greatest reasons that Christ loves you.

1. The command of the Father on the Son. The Father gave Jesus a perpetual command to love sinners (see Jn. 6:37-40; Jn. 10:15-18; 15:10). Jesus remains in the Father's love by loving sinners. There can be no greater influence upon the Son to love us poor, miserable sinners than the command of the Father. Christ's failure to love us would actually be a failure to love his Father. 

Think of Christ's words to Peter in John 21:15-17. Christ asks Peter three times, "do you love me?" Peter will show his love for Christ by feeding Christ's sheep. Now think of the Father asking the Son, "do you love me?" Son: "Yes, Father, you know that I love you." Father: "Die for my sheep, love my sheep, nourish my sheep."

Christ shows his love for the Father by loving those whom the Father has given to him. There can be no greater pleasure for Christ than expressing his love for his Father. This has massive implications for us: it means that Christ will show his love for the Father by loving us.

2. The work of the Spirit on the Son. Christ possessed the Spirit without measure (Jn. 3:34). He is the man of the Spirit, par excellence. Upon his entrance into heaven, Christ received a fresh outpouring of the Spirit to the greatest degree possible for any human (Acts 2:33; Ps. 45). As a merciful high priest, exalted in the heavens, the Spirit produces grace and mercy in Christ in a manner than even exceeded his grace and mercy on earth. Therefore, Christ, having the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), is even more patient towards sinners in Heaven than he was on earth. This partly explains why Christ said it was better for him to go than stay (Jn. 16:7).

As Thomas Goodwin said, "your very sins move him more to pity than anger." This is what it means for Christ to be a sympathetic high priest.

Christ's resurrected body made it possible for him to receive not only a fresh outpouring of the Spirit upon his human nature in heaven, but his resurrected body enabled him to receive an even fuller outpouring of the Spirit upon his human nature in heaven, as the exalted King. Thus Christ is more patient, loving, and merciful in heaven (i.e., in glory) towards sinners on earth than when he was in his state of humiliation. 

3. The holy self-love of the Son. As Christ saves and blesses his people, he is reaping the fruit of his work for sinners. He is more concerned for our salvation than we are. As a good husband, Christ loves his bride. But, remember, in loving his bride he is loving himself: 

28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. [29] For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, [30] because we are members of his body (Eph. 5:28-30).

Why would Christ deprive his own body of grace? I can be sure that he will love me because I belong to him, and he would have to hate himself before he could hate me. Whatever grace, love, blessing, etc., we have received as Christians, we can be sure that we have received these graces because Christ loves himself.

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me that: 

1) Jesus must love sinners in order to express his love towards his Father.
2) Jesus will be patient and merciful towards me because of the effect of the Holy Spirit upon him in Heaven.
3) Jesus will love me because he is a good husband, so that by loving me more he is loving himself more.

If you're a Christian struggling with assurance, here, then, are three blessed reasons to be assured: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

And guess what? How many of these reasons for Christ loving us have anything to do with things we do? The greatest reasons Christ loves you are entirely dependent not upon us, but upon the triune God, which really is good news.

The odd thing about some of the theology that comes from the camp of those who claim to emphasize grace in their preaching and teaching is that they don't always do a very good job of expressing the rich theology of grace found in the Scriptures. It is one thing to use the word grace a lot, but quite another thing to express a robust, trinitarian theology of grace that highlights the person of Christ in a manner that goes beyond over-used slogans. 

Personally, I'm glad that the three greatest reasons Christ loves me are not qualifications in me, but instead dependent upon the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  

Katherine Sonderegger and the Divine Oneness of God

I've been slowly working my way through Katherine Sonderegger's Systematic Theology Volume 1: The Doctrine of God.  Released this year, it is the sort of book that pastor-theologians or theological students could make the focus of a reading group. It is beautifully written, fresh, biblical in method, and extremely stimulating. It is above all genuinely theological, and not as concerned with the political as much contemporary theological writing is. You can see some other comments I've made on Sonderegger here. This post represents the first of what might be called 'reading notes' on Sonderegger's text. 

'The Perfect Oneness of God' is the place that Sonderegger chooses to begin her doctrine of God. This is for a biblical reasons, she argues: the Shema is such a foundational truth for all of Scripture that it cannot be gainsaid. She notes that the New Testament is likewise insistent on the oneness of God as 'axiomatic', citing James 2:19: 'You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe - and shudder!'. For Jesus, the oneness of God is the theological principle from which he argues with the lawyer about the greatest commandment (Mark 12:29-30). 

So God is One. But what does that mean? Does it mean that God is to be worshipped alone among other gods? Or that in fact that there are no other gods? At this juncture, Sonderegger begins to address one of the concerns underlying her work: that the critique of a kind of theological conceptuality as being 'Greek metaphysics' in the name of a more 'biblical' or 'Hebraic' type of thinking has been a massive mistake in late twentieth century theology. For Robert Jenson, writing in the tradition of Karl Barth, the divine oneness needs to sweep away all thought of the 'one' of Greek metaphysics and instead consider the particular and distinctive contribution of the narrative of Holy Scripture, with its dramatic presentation of the threefold God. 

Sonderegger is not an anti-trinitarian! But she questions the almost universal trend to take the doctrine of the Trinity as the starting point for the doctrine of God. This was Aquinas's starting point, and that of many Reformed theologians, although not Peter Lombard's. Lombard began with the Three; Aquinas insisted on beginning with the One. 

So, what is Sonderegger's argument for beginning with the Oneness and not the Threeness? The Oneness of God is, she says, one of those principles so foundational that all other theological statements rest upon it. There are philosophical and traditional warrants for starting here, but most importantly: 'Divine Oneness is recommended principally by Holy Scripture itself' (p. 9). Sonderegger then argues that the principle form of the Old Testament is not narrative, but Torah. And the subject matter of Torah is the One God. In particular, we see the profound influence of the book of Deuteronomy in the gospels and in Paul. As Sonderegger says:
Indeed so central is Torah, and especially its representation in Deuteronomy to the authors of the New Testament, that we risk simply repeating these Gospels and Epistles when we set out the citations (p. 12). 
The law is framed in narrative, but it is after all not the narrative that Psalm 119 celebrates, but the 'precepts' 'commandments' 'laws' and 'statutes'. 

What this allows us to do is to go beyond God as an actor in a drama, as per Barth and Jenson, and to talk about metaphysics. The Oneness of God says something about his being. Even though Scripture is not a philosophical treatise, and it is certainly not a Greek philosophical treatise; but that is saying something about genre, not subject matter. This is an important principle to distinguish for a properly theological hermeneutics. The form of Holy Scripture is certainly not to be separated from its subject matter, but it surely can be distinguished from it, and definitely not reduced to it. 

In particular, the narratives and other literature of the Old Testament distinguish the One True God from the other gods by the fact of his invisibility. 'The nature of the One God is to have no image, form, or likeness' (p. 21). That is the opening principle for Israel's invitation to worship the One God. That is the tragic story of apostasy, as the chase after idols. The Oneness of God, and his Invisibility, are in opposition to the gods and idols of the nations that surround Israel. 

There are questions to ponder here. Is Sonderegger right in putting Torah in the central form of her reading of the Old Testament? Certainly, this move allows her to reintroduce the traditional metaphysical conceptuality of theology. The limp theism of a previous generation is now being seriously challenged (how did anyone ever think that Open Theism was a good idea?) But the warning, that a thicker version of metaphysics might do damage to the proper reading of Scripture, should be heeded, too. 

Michael P Jensen is the rector of St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point, Sydney, and the author of Martyrdom and Identity: the Self on Trial and Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology

Most evangelical presentations of the doctrine of Scripture are implicitly trinitarian. They identify the Father as Scripture's primary author, the Son as Scripture's central subject matter, and the Spirit as the immediate agent of prophetic and apostolic inspiration. Scripture is God the Father preaching God the Son by God the Spirit, to borrow J. I. Packer's famous description. Moreover, evangelicals recognize that the gospel of Jesus Christ, the central subject matter of Scripture, is implicitly trinitarian. The gospel concerns the love of God the Father for elect sinners, the suffering and glory of God the incarnate Son, and the fellowship of the saints in God the Spirit. The gospel is trinitarian in its root and fruit. 

As salutary as this implicit trinitarianism is, there is more to be said about the relationship between the Trinity and Scripture. The Trinity is not simply the primary author of Holy Scripture and the organic structure of the gospel. The Trinity is the depth dimension of Holy Scripture, its principal subject matter and end. Matthew Bates's recent book, The Birth of the Trinity: Jesus, God, and the Spirit in New Testament and Early Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament, opens an illuminating window into to the trinitarian depth dimension of Holy Scripture.

Bates's book focuses upon early Christian "prosopological exegesis" of the Old Testament. Prosopological exegesis is a "person-centered reading strategy" that seeks to resolve the otherwise ambiguous identities of speakers and audiences in Old Testament texts in light of the clear determination of their identities in the apostolic gospel. As Bates demonstrates, both the New Testament and early Christian interpreters engaged in this sort of exegesis. For example, Mark 12.35-37 clarifies the identities of speaker and auditor in Psalm 110 as God the Father speaking to God the Son regarding his eternal generation and messianic dominion. And it clarifies for us that David overheard this conversation between the Father and the Son "in the Holy Spirit."     

New Testament and early Christian prosopological exegesis overhears the story of "the conversational God" as it unfolds from its root in the Son's eternal generation and appointment as Messiah, through the Son's incarnate mission, death, and resurrection, to its ultimate triumph in the installment of the Son at the Father's right hand. 

In Psalm 110.3-4, we overhear the Father say, "from the womb, before the dawn-bearing morning star appeared, I begot you," and we overhear the Father appoint this eternally begotten Son as messianic priest-king, "You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" (compare with Psalm 2.6-9).

In Psalm 40.6-8, we overhear the Son speaking to the Father of the body he has prepared for him and of the Son's desire to do the Father's will in his incarnate mission (see also Heb 10.5-7). 

In Psalm 22, we overhear the Son's cry of agony from the cross (vv. 1-2) and we overhear the Son praise the Father in the midst of an "ever-expanding" assembly of peoples after the Father has raised him from the dead (vv. 22-25).

In Psalm 45.6-7, we overhear the Son being addressed as the Father installs him on his eternal throne after he has obediently fulfilled the Father's commission, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your companions" (see also Heb 1.8-9).

Such a reading strategy unveils the trinitarian depth dimension of Scripture in at least two ways. First, it reveals that Holy Scripture is not only God's Word to us; Holy Scripture is also witness to God's Word to God. How wonderful it is to read the Bible as a Spirit-inspired occasion to overhear God's intratrinitarian conversation! Second, this reading strategy helps us see that the great love story which unfolds in the pages of Scripture is not simply the story of God's love for elect sinners. It is the story of the Father's love for his eternal Son and of his desire to make him the head of a redeemed humanity, and it is the story of the Son's love for the Father and of his willingness to become incarnate and to endure suffering--to the point of death on a cross--out of zeal for the Father's glory among the nations (Ps 69.9; John 2.17). Prosopological exegesis helps us see that the story of God's love for us is but a modulation on the greater theme of the Father's love for the Son in the Spirit. 

Prosopological exegesis is a person-centered reading strategy that helps us see the person-centered subject matter and the person-centered end of Scripture. It teaches us that the purpose of revelation, and of revelation's inscripturation, is to unveil God's intratrinitarian life of communication and communion and to welcome us into that life's embrace--at great cost to the triune God himself (Matt 11.25-27; 1 John 1.3-4). Holy Scripture is the product of the Holy Spirit, who enabled prophets and apostles to overhear the lovely words of the Father to the Son and of the Son to the Father, and who enables us to hear the testimony of the prophets and apostles in order that, through their testimony, we too may have fellowship with the Father through the Son in the Spirit.
In previous entries in what is becoming an impromptu antiphonal blog series on the Trinity, Fred Sanders and I have focused on the nature and relevance of the doctrine of inseparable operations (see here, here, and here). To this point, we have considered ways in which the unity of God's being informs the unity of God's action towards his creatures in making, redeeming, and perfecting them for his glory. In the present post, I want to consider a couple of the ways in which his tripersonal manner of existing is inflected in his external works. As God is one and three, so God acts as one and three.

God's triune identity informs our understanding of God's triune actions in two areas, both which specify in different ways how the three persons relate to one another within the context of their indivisible activity toward creatures. 

(1) The doctrine of appropriations helps us appreciate why the Scriptures characteristically appropriate (for example) the act of predestination to the Father (Eph 1.4-6; 1 Pet 1.1-2) even though each divine person is an agent of God's electing grace (John 6.70; 13.18; 1 Cor 2.7-11). The reason distinct divine actions are appropriated to distinct divine persons is not because God's actions toward his creatures are divided between the persons: the external works of the Trinity are undivided (opera Trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt). The reason is due to the ways in which the personal characteristics of the three manifest themselves in their common, indivisible action. Thus, as the Father is the principle of the Son and the Spirit (i.e., he eternally generates the Son and he eternally breathes forth the Spirit), his personal character shines forth in a special way in predestination, the principle act of the Trinity in salvation. Similarly, because the Son is eternally generated by the Father and because he eternally breathes forth the Spirit, the Son's personal character shines forth in a special way in the work of redemption, since the work of redemption flows from divine predestination and issues in the work of sanctification (Eph 1.3-14). Finally, because the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son as the bond of God's tripersonal perfection, his personal character shines forth in a special way in the work of sanctification, since the work of sanctification brings the acts of predestination and redemption to their divinely appointed goal (Eph 1.4; 5.27), making us a habitation for the triune God (John 14.16-17, 23).

More clearly than in the doctrine of appropriations, (2) the doctrine of divine missions reveals how the mystery of God's tripersonal being shines forth in God's tripersonal actions toward his creatures. In trinitarian theology, "mission" refers to the "sending" of one divine person by another for a specific purpose in relation to our salvation. In Scripture, these missions follow a very specific pattern: the Father sends the Son to accomplish his redemptive mission; and the Father, with the Son, sends the Spirit to accomplish his sanctifying mission (Gal 4.4-7; John 15.26). This missional pattern in turn corresponds to the eternal relations that constitute the divine persons: the Father eternally generates the Son; and the Father, with the Son, eternally breathes forth the Spirit. As insightful as this correspondence is, it does not fully capture the wonderful reality expressed in the doctrine of the divine missions. Not only do the eternal relations of the Trinity constitute the "whence" of the divine missions, the latter being the temporal embassy and extension of the former. The eternal relations of the Trinity also constitute the "whither" of the divine missions insofar as they provide the divine prototypes and goals of those missions: the goal of the Son's redemptive mission is to make us sons and daughters in order that he might become the firstborn among many brothers and sisters (Gal 4.5; Rom 8.29); the goal of the Spirit's sanctifying mission is to embrace us within the fellowship of the Father and the Son, pouring out the Father's love into our hearts (Rom 5.5), and awakening within us the Son's filial cry of "Abba! Father!" (Gal 4.6). Formally stated, we may summarize the law of God's triune action as follows: The eternal relations of the Trinity are inflected in their undivided external operations, even as the external operations of the Trinity extend their eternal relations to elect creatures in a manner suitable to creatures.

Why does any of this matter? Along with the fact that the doctrines of inseparable operations, appropriations, and missions help us think truly about the true and triune God in his saving action, these doctrines also help us become better readers of Scripture (see, for example, here) and help deepen our communion with the triune God (see, for example, here and here). Those are not insignificant reasons for caring about trinitarian theology. 


Now, in order to round out this impromptu series, somebody needs to say something about the relationship between the Trinity and divine simplicity and about the nature and significance of the eternal generation of the Son of God. Fred? 
I recently read an essay by a leading evangelical theologian arguing that many "egalitarian" discussions of the doctrine of the Trinity threaten to compromise basic tenets of orthodox Christianity and to undermine, at least implicitly, the authority of the Bible (Wayne Grudem, "Doctrinal Deviations in Evangelical-Feminist Arguments about the Trinity," in Bruce A. Ware and John Starke, eds., One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life [Crossway, 2015], chap. 1). Over the course of the essay, the author extensively criticized some of these approaches for subscribing to the doctrine of "inseparable operations." The doctrine of inseparable operations teaches that, because the three persons of the Trinity are one God, each person of the Trinity is operative in all of God's external works--from creation through redemption to consummation. More concisely stated: "the external works of the Trinity are indivisible" (opera trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt). Though I share the author's complementarian commitments, as well as his concerns about the way some egalitarian theologians treat the Trinity, I believe his attempt to correct these treatments of the Trinity by denying the doctrine of inseparable operations represents a cure that is worse than the disease. To deny the doctrine of inseparable operations is to undermine classical trinitarian theology at its core.

As Lewis Ayres and others have demonstrated quite extensively over the past couple of decades, fourth century trinitarian thought, the context within which "Nicene Christianity" as we know it emerged, was characterized by three basic features: (1) a clear sense of the distinction between "person" and "nature" in the Godhead, with the understanding that there are three of the former and only one of the latter; (2) a conviction that the eternal generation of the Son does not constitute a division between the being of the Father and the being of the Son but rather that it occurs within the indivisible and incomprehensible being of God; and (3) a belief that the unity of being among the Father, the Son, and the Spirit entails a unity of operation in their works toward creatures. These three features, we should note, not only characterize fourth century trinitarian theology; they also characterize mainstream trinitarian theology East and West, late patristic, medieval, and modern, Catholic and Protestant. 

The doctrine of inseparable operations has received broad acceptance in the church because it enjoys a solid foundation in Holy Scripture. The doctrine reflects a pattern of theological reasoning that follows from a biblical pattern of divine naming. 

Consider just one example. In 1 Corinthians 8.6, Paul declares: "for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist." In this text, the Apostle appropriates two common Jewish strategies, one drawn from the Old Testament, another borrowed from Greco-Roman God-talk, for affirming the absolute unity of God's identity and action. The language of "one God" and "one Lord" draws upon Deuteronomy 6.4 to affirm the unity of God's identity. The language about "all things" being "from" him and "through" him borrows discourse often used to describe the various "causes" of the universe in order to affirm that God alone is the supreme cause of all things--i.e., that all things are "from him and through him and to him," to quote Romans 11.36. The striking feature of 1 Corinthians 8.6 is that Paul locates the distinct identities of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ within the singular divine identity and within the singular divine causality that plans and accomplishes all things for God's glory. (For further discussion of this and other Pauline texts relevant to the doctrine of the Trinity, see Wes Hill's excellent book.)

This feature of the biblical naming of God constitutes the controlling grammar of the church's later trinitarian discourse. The distinction between divine persons is a distinction that obtains within the singular being of God without compromising or dividing that being. Similarly, the distinction between divine persons is a distinction that obtains within the singular agency of God without compromising or dividing that agency.  

Of course, the flip side is true as well. The unity of God's being does not elide the distinction between the persons: The Father and the Son are one God and one Lord; but the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father. Furthermore, the unity of God's agency, as affirmed in the doctrine of inseparable operations, does not elide the distinction between the persons. Francis Turretin summarizes a broad ecclesiastical consensus on this point:

Although the external works [of the Trinity] are undivided and equally common to the single persons (both on the part of the principle and on the part of the accomplishment), yet they are distinguished by order and by terms. For the order of operating follows the order of subsisting. As therefore the Father is from himself, so he works from himself; as the Son is from the Father, so he works from the Father (here belong the words of Christ, 'the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do,' Jn. 5:19). As the Holy Spirit is from both, so he works from both. They also differ in terms as often as any divine operation is terminated on any person. So the voice heard from heaven is terminated on the Father, incarnation on the Son and the appearance in the form of a dove on the Holy Spirit.

In other words, within the undivided action of God toward his creatures, the three persons act in accordance with their distinct identities: in every work of God outside of himself, the Father acts from himself, the Son acts from the Father, and the Spirit acts from the Father and the Son. The three act in an indivisible but not an indistinct manner. (This principle, by the way, constitutes the intratrinitarian basis of the Son's obedience to the Father in his incarnate state, as Mike Allen and I have argued here.) 

The past twenty five years or so have not exactly been a golden age of evangelical reflection upon the Trinity. This is due in part to modern theological amnesia regarding some of the most basic elements of biblical, trinitarian reasoning (as Stephen Holmes has shown here). It is also due to the (all too often) haphazard manner in which the Trinity has been used in debates regarding gender roles in the church. Thankfully, things are slowly changing. As they do, both complementarians and egalitarians need to do some house cleaning in their theological polemics. Such house cleaning will require patience in recovering the categories of classical trinitarian theology and, more fundamentally, in recovering the patterns of biblical reasoning from which these categories derive and which, in turn, these categories serve to promote. 

When engaging in theological polemics, we must be careful not to destroy the fruitful trees that may stand in the midst of our interlocutors' arguments (see Deut 20.19-20). Let's contend for a biblical understanding of gender and gender roles. But let's not compromise the doctrine of the Trinity in the process.
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." 2 Corinthians 13.14

B. B. Warfield long ago observed that the apostolic writings do not develop but rather presuppose the doctrine of the Trinity. The New Testament is not evidence of a transitional stage in the evolution of a trinitarian faith that is only conceptualized and codified in later centuries. The New Testament exhibits the presence within the apostolic church of a deeply ingrained trinitarian faith that, almost effortlessly, articulates itself in trinitarian summaries of the gospel events (e.g., Gal 4.4-7), trinitarian formulations of sacramental practice (e.g., Matt 28.19), trinitarian outbursts of praise (e.g., Eph 1.3-14), and trinitarian benedictions, such as we have in 2 Corinthians 13.14. 

This little verse is a trinitarian theology of salvation in miniature. As the God in whose name it blesses is one and three, so too is the salvation it commends. 

Second Corinthians 13.14 coordinates each phase of God's saving work--from its conception to its accomplishment to its effect--to a different person of the Trinity. Thus "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" coordinates the accomplishment God's saving work to the Son: our Lord and elder brother who graciously humbled himself to bear our curse and who was gloriously exalted to bestow his Father's blessing (2 Cor 8.9). "The love of God" coordinates the conception of God's saving work to the Father: whose love initiated the sacrifice of his beloved Son (John 3.16) and whose love intended our adoption as that sacrifice's gracious consequence (Eph 1.4-5). "The fellowship of the Holy Spirit" coordinates the effect of God's saving work to the Spirit: who brings us into adoptive fellowship with the Father (Gal 4.5-6), through mystical fellowship with the Son (Eph 1.3), in and by the corporate fellowship of the local church (1 Cor 12). 

The text does not coordinate the three persons of the Trinity to the three phases of salvation because all three persons are not united in all three phases of God's saving work (the external works of God, after all, are undivided) but in order to highlight the distinctive glory of each particular person in each particular phase of salvation. Consequently, as the Father's distinctive personal character lies in begetting the Son and breathing the Spirit, so too does his distinctive personal character shine with particular brilliance in conceiving the plan of salvation in love. As the Son's distinctive personal character lies in being begotten of the Father and breathing the Spirit, so too does his distinctive personal character shine with particular brilliance in accomplishing the gracious plan that brings many sons to glory. As the Spirit's distinctive personal character lies in being breathed forth by the Father and the Son in their mutual fellowship and love, so too does his distinctive personal character shine with particular brilliance in welcoming us into the fruit or effect of God's gracious plan of salvation: the fellowship of the Spirit.

Two quick observations follow from the preceding discussion. 

First, contrary to Warfield's reading, this verse does not contradict the principle that an ordered procession of persons exists within the Trinity; it rather confirms it. Though syntactically the Son precedes the Father and the Spirit in this verse, his position in the work of salvation corresponds to his personal order within the Trinity, as we saw above. The significance of 2 Corinthians 13.14 for trinitarian theology, we might say, lies not in syntax but in semantics. 2 Corinthians 13.14 presents to us a salvation initiated by the first person, accomplished by the second person, and perfected by the third person in correspondence with their eternal relations.

Second, as with the persons themselves, the phases of God's work of salvation may be distinguished. However, as with the persons, God's work of salvation cannot be divided. God's salvation, like God himself is one. No conception of salvation without salvation's accomplishment. No accomplishment of salvation without salvation's effect. 

This observation, it seems to me, holds powerful implications for how we think about the place of the local church within God's saving purpose. If it is indeed true that the fellowship of the Spirit (with the Father, through the Son, in the local church) is inseparable from the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father, then we cannot expect to enjoy the grace of the Lord Jesus or the love of the Father apart from the church, the community within which the fellowship of the Spirit flourishes. Accordingly, to the extent that we would lean into the love of the Father and into the grace of the Lord Jesus, we must lean into the fellowship of the Spirit in the place where he pours forth the realities of that fellowship, in the local church.

And this also seems to be why Paul concludes a series of exhortations toward restoration, mutual comfort, agreement, and peace (see 2 Cor 13.11) with a trinitarian benediction: because the triune God of love, grace, and fellowship is the one whose blessing and presence is absolutely essential in forming a community characterized by restoration, mutual comfort, agreement, and peace.
Augustine's second homily on the Gospel of John offers one of the richest commentaries on John 1.12 that I have read. His explanation of what it means for God to give us "the right to become children of God" is worth quoting in full:

What did he bestow on them? Great kindness; great mercy. Singly born, he did not wish to remain one and only. Many couples who have had no children adopt some when advanced in years and realize by choice what nature was unable to provide; that is what human beings do. But someone who has an only son rejoices in him all the more, because he alone will take possession of the whole inheritance and not have anyone else to divide it with and thus turn out the poorer. Not so God; he sent the very same one and only Son he had begotten, through whom he had created everything, into this world so that he should not be alone but should have adopted brothers and sisters. You see, we were not born of God in the same way as the only-begotten Son of his, but we were adopted through the Son's grace. For the only-begotten Son came to forgive sins, those sins which had us so tied up that they were an impediment to his adopting us; he forgave those he wished to make his brothers and sisters and made them co-heirs... No, he was not afraid of having co-heirs, because his inheritance is not whittled down if many possess it. They themselves, in fact, become the inheritance which he possesses, and he in turn becomes their inheritance (Homilies on the Gospel of John [New City Press, 2009], pp. 64-65).

The beauty of Augustine's description of adoption speaks for itself. A few observations are nevertheless worth making.

(1) Augustine's homily is a helpful reminder that faithful biblical exposition did not begin in the modern era. Patristic sermons and biblical commentaries will inevitably strike evangelicals as strange territory. Nonetheless, it is territory that repays patient exploration.  

(2) Much of the power of the doctrine of adoption lies in the disanalogy that obtains between human adoption and divine adoption. Human couples often adopt because they lack natural offspring. Human couples with an only child (at least in Augustine's day) often rejoice in the fact that their offspring can be the sole heir of their inheritance (and thus can avoid the poverty that might accompany dividing their inheritance). "Not so God": He sacrificed what he had--his eternally begotten, eternally beloved Son--to enrich his enemies by making them joint-heirs with Christ. 

(3) We cannot appreciate the full depths of the gospel apart from the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us about the kind of love that is on display in the gospel. The Father eternally loves the Son, and this love is the measure of what the gospel cost: the Father loved us by sacrificing his beloved Son to forgive those sins that "were an impediment to his adopting us." Moreover, the Father's love for the Son is the measure of what the gospel bought: the Father loved us by bequeathing to us an inexhaustible inheritance, which is nothing other than the right to become an heir of the Father's love in and with Jesus Christ, his beloved Son. Truly this is "great kindness; great mercy."

I Worshipped "Allah" Last Sunday

Never have I so carefully typed quotation marks. Those tiny dashes keep intact both my ordination vows and my soul. They also refer to my enjoyable experience last Sunday attending an international service organized by the Gereformeerde Kerken in IJsselmuiden, Netherlands. Gathered there was a small group of immigrants and refugees from around the world, including not a few from the Middle East. The sermon was in Dutch, but it was immediately translated, phrase by phrase, into French, Russian, English, and Arabic . . . all at the same time. By accident I sat in the Arabic section, but I could still hear the English translator parked on the other side of the room. 

The kaleidoscope of languages spoken all at once pushed the limits of my sensibilities for "decency and order," but it also made the service unforgettable. I was particularly struck by how the content of a single sermon--fittingly, on Pentecost--appeared to resonate with all of the congregants, each in his own tongue. Through both ears, I heard that all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of "Allah." Of course, in this case, "Allah" unequivocally meant the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

How different was the carefully choreographed prayer service hosted last week by Pope Francis with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas. The well-intentioned event enjoyed pre-approval by the modern Catholic Church's declaration that, with the Church, "Moselms . . . adore the one God." Similar confusion between the "Allah" of Islam and the, well, quite different "Allah" of Christian (triune) theism now swirls at the doorstep of our theological homes. What will we do?

At the close of my own international assembly, the congregation sang "Great is Thy Faithfulness," dividing the stanzas into the languages represented there. Such unity in diversity offered a faint analogy of the glory of the triune God. Discerning when that glory gets diminished in the name of well-intended desires to reach and respect foreign cultures requires the wisdom of God. Thankfully, as I heard last Sunday, that is just what our faithful God has promised to give his sons in the Spirit.

The Triune God

Our latest book, The Triune God, has recently been published in partnership with P&R Publishing. It is high testament to the blessings of God upon some very hard work as it's the culmination of many years of steady and faithful labor by one pastor and one church family. 

Rev. Ron Kohl is the senior pastor of Grace Bible Fellowship Church (a supporting Alliance Member Church) in Quakertown PA. Yes, that Quakertown, of our Quakertown Regional Conference on Reformed Theology. After several years of an encouraging and edifying event, this volume is evidence of the faithful teaching and ministry that has happened there.

In the latest Alliance Re:port Ron tells of the conference and makes a case for Alliance events in a piece titled "Mary Moments in a Martha World." If you have not read it, you ought. And if you need a copy our Alliance Re:port, wish to learn more about Alliance Member Churches, or to order a copy of The Triune God, please call us (215-546-3696) as we would be happy to mail you one.

The Triune God can be ordered here -
Alliance Re:port can be viewed here -
Alliance Member Churches can be found here -,,PTID307086_CHID560230_CIID1423494,00.html


The winners of Jeremy Walker's book, The New Calvinism Considered: a personal and pastoral assessment, will soon be receiving their copies thanks to EP Books! Thank everyone for signing up, those random selected are:

Joan H, Huron, OH
Anthony F, Valencia CA
Helene B, Luverne MN
Alvin L, Herndon VA
Corey D, Walker MI
Nate B, Paso Robles, CA
DeWayne W, Willingboro NJ
Greg M, Olathe KS
Mark P, Tuscaloosa AL
Charles B, Greenville SC

Hunting with a Lion


Now that B. B. Warfield's theology is back on the scene with Fred Zaspel's The Theology of B. B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway), I thought I'd point out a few comments by the Lion of Princeton in his Collected Works on the faithful and fearless John Calvin. What struck me this week was Warfield's assessment of what made Calvin tick, what drove his most profound theological reflection, what conditioned all of his work at Geneva, and what suffused his every religious impulse with devotional fire.

What was it for Calvin that, according to Warfield, "did not stand for him out of relation to his religious consciousness" but was essentially given "in his experience of salvation itself"? What was that "great and inspiring reality" that situated "his profoundest religious emotions"? Was it the compelling narrative of Scripture? A renewed cosmos to come? Small groups?!? No, for Calvin, it was that vital and mysterious truth that we worship one absolute God in three Persons.

Now I confess, I wouldn't instinctively place the doctrine of the Trinity at the center of a church growth strategy. But Calvin knew something we too often don't remember; namely, that God as Trinity permeates and conditions all that is genuinely Christian, including church worship, prayers, providence, salvation, Scripture, sacraments, preaching, and, indeed, all of life and creation.

So 400 years from now, what would an observer say is the ultimate conviction of your (or your pastor's) ministry? What truth undergirded each sermon, Sunday School lesson, or session meeting? Of course, I'm not advocating tossing out words like "hypostases" or "perichoresis" from the pulpit each week. But let us increasingly yearn to become self-consciously Trinitarian in the deepest fibers of our being in order that we might better know and commune with the only God who is.

Results tagged “Trinity” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 2.3, Part Two

iii. In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

To limit the Confession's commitment to Trinitarianism to the two sentences that conclude Chapter two would be a serious mistake. Though simplistic revisionists have seen fit to add a chapter on the Holy Spirit, the entire Confession is viewed from a Trinitarian perspective, including the Confession's robust portrayal of the work of the Spirit in the Application of Redemption that comprises the bulk of the central sections of the Confession. 

Of practical import, to neglect the Father will make us soft and lazy, folk of dull consciences inclined to antinomianism and prone to complain at what we view as a lack of parental care for our most urgent needs. Ignoring the Son will lead us to make little of our need for a blood-bought redemption or of giving praise and glory to another, encouraging us in the default of every Adamic heir - a treadmill of works righteousness as we endeavor to make idols of ourselves. Neglecting the Spirit will encourage worldliness of the worst kind, ignoring what he provides in on-going transformational holiness in fruit-bearing, Christ-like lives. 

To get a grasp of how Trinitarianly robust seventeenth century Reformed theology can be, read John Owen's, Of Communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Each Person Distinctly, in Love, Grace, and Consolation; or, The Saint's Fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost Unfolded (1658), otherwise known as Volume 2 of the 16-volumed set of Owen's Works. He will make us appear as theological Lilliputians.

Chapter 2.3

iii. In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

Richard Muller notes three characteristics of Reformed Orthodoxy's discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity: First, they showed a careful appropriation and development of Patristic vocabulary; second, they demonstrated a clear appreciation of the exegetical ground of the doctrine in Scripture; and third, they struggled to find philosophical categories for the expression of the doctrine given the increasingly problematic conception of the term "substance" in the seventeenth century [Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics 4:58-62].

Given the degree of anti-Trinitarian sentiments in both the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Socinianism in particular)*, and as Trinitarian statements go, the WCF's two sentence, fifty-five word statement is profoundly terse and even simple. We should not conclude, however, that the Divines minimized the doctrine; on the contrary, any form of Unitarian theology was viewed as heresy and, more especially, un-Christian and even anti-Christian. One-in-threeness and Three-in-Oneness constitutes orthodox theology and the Divines bow to Tertullianesque, Niceno-Constantinopolitan creedal justification for the statements they make. There is One God but there is also MORE THAN ONE who is the ONE God. The Father is God. The Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God. 

Truth is, God can only exist this way. Truth is, too, that the gospel can only be the way that it is because God is triune, for love - out-going, sacrificial love that we see in Christ's Mediatorship - can only exist because of plurality within the unity of God. Without Trinity there is no possibility of gospel.

[* See, Paul C. H. Lim, The Crisis of the Trinity in Early Modern England (OUP, 2012); Philip Dixon, Nice Hot Disputes: The Doctrine of the Trinity in the Seventeenth Century (T & T Clark, 2006)]