Let's all be Nicene
July 7, 2016
The following are passages from Bruce Ware’s book Father Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships Roles and Relevance.
“God the Father receives the ultimate and supreme glory, for the Father sent the Son to accomplish redemption in his humiliation, and the Father exalted the Son to his place over all creation; in all these things, the Father alone stands supreme over all – including supreme over his very Son. All praise of the Son ultimately and rightly redounds to the glory of the Father. It is the Father, then who is supreme in the Godhead – in the triune relationships of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and supreme over all of the very creation over which the Son reigns as its Lord.” – p. 50"The Father is supreme over all, and in particular, he is supreme within the Godhead as the highest in authority and the one deserving of ultimate praise." – p. 51"...though the Father is supreme, he often provides and works through his Son and Spirit to accomplish his work and fulfill his will. I am amazed when I consider here the humility of the Father. For, though the Father is supreme, though he has in the trinitarian order the place of highest authority, the place of highest honor, yet he chooses to do his work in many cases through the Son and through the Spirit rather than unilaterally." – p. 55"In many ways, what we see here of the Father choosing not to work unilaterally but to accomplish his work through the Son, or through the Spirit, extends into his relationship to us. Does God need us to do his work? Does God need us to help others grow in Christ? Does God need us to proclaim the gospel so that others hear the good news and are saved? The answer is an emphatic no. He doesn't need any of us to do any of this. Being the omnipotent and sovereign Ruler over all, he would merely have to speak, and whatever he willed would be done.... No, the humbling fact is that God doesn't need any of those whom he calls into his service." – p. 57"It is not as though the Father is unable to work unilaterally, but rather, he chooses to involve the Son and the Spirit." – p. 57
Here at Mortification of Spin we have been careful to not label Dr. Ware a heretic. Church courts make those determinations. But whatever else the above statements from Dr. Ware’s book are they are most certainly not historic Christian orthodoxy. The passages are not taken out of a context that actually shapes them into orthodoxy. Indeed, reading the entire chapter only drives home the point that Dr. Ware’s views on the Trinity veer far afield from what the church catholic has professed since at least the 4th century.
At this point it is clear to me that the “tone” of those first posts by Liam Goligher and Carl Trueman which kicked off this debate were actually quite measured considering the seriousness of the errors; even restrained. I wonder if those who accused Goligher and Trueman of slander, of being stealth egalitarians, and “accusers of the brethren” will now publicly apologize?
I will not speculate about motives. Neither will I draw conclusions about anyone’s love for Jesus. But I need help from those who would defend the above passages. If words mean anything at all, if there are any limits to nuancing and massaging statements to death then what else can those words be but profound departures from historic trinitarian orthodoxy?
I have no interest in engaging in a debate about the character or sincerity of Dr. Ware. I have no reason to doubt that he is anything other than a good and decent man. But that has nothing to do with whether or not his views are orthodox. I don’t know how Southern Baptists handle these sorts of things. Perhaps they don’t. But I can say this for sure: No man who wrote those words would be considered for ordination in my presbytery. His words would be identified as nothing better than old fashioned Arianism. Keep in mind, the way we judge a theologian and preacher is not by what we imagine he must mean but by what he actually writes and proclaims.
This is not nitpicking over esoteric minutiae. This is about the nature of our glorious God and Savior. Men were tortured and exiled for the sake of such truth. In an excellent address on Athanasius delivered by Dr. Al Mohler at a pastor’s conference some years ago he made a statement which I have never forgotten. He said that “Athanasius went to war over an iota.” Indeed he did. I cannot think of a single major heresy the roots of which are not traced to an undermining of the doctrine of the Trinity.
I am a pastor. I hate error. I see the damage bad theology does every day. So when serious error about the nature of God is advanced by an influential theologian published by a major publisher and promoted by a ministry that purports to advance the biblical truth of manhood and womanhood I cannot simply say, “No foul. He’s a good man.” Nor will I be satisfied any longer with the “that’s not what he meant” line. Words mean things. It is upon certain words that we stand. And I can think of no possible way that Dr. Ware’s words can be nuanced to be consistent with Nicene orthodoxy.
Now, we are all sinners and therefore deeply flawed. That means we all make errors that we need to later correct. But this responsibility to correct errors is exponentially more important for those who train pastors and write for the church. Therefore, if Dr. Ware no longer holds the views espoused in his book Father, Son, and Holy Spirit then it is vital that he publicly repudiate those views and pull the copies of his book. I am sure this would be a difficult thing to do. But is this not the right thing to do?
Theologians and church historians have been pushing back against the subbordinationism espoused by Drs. Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem for years. Entire books have been written on the topic. Papers have been published. Moderated debates have been held. But all these efforts have taken place almost exclusively in a corner of the academic world rarely accessed by lay persons. We chose to speak up when we noticed how these errant views on the Trinity were being actively advanced to the laity in order to justify a view of authority and submission among men and women for which there is no biblical warrant. The fact is Drs. Ware and Grudem have for years resisted challenges to their views. The debate is nothing new. We simply decided to not sit idly by while these views were peddled to the pews.