Tone and the Trinity Debate


One of the unfortunate features of the current Trinity debate is the moaning over “tone.” Such a complaint fails in at least two ways. First it fails in not affording proper weight to the content of the debate. In generations past men were willing to be exiled and physically mangled for defending Trinitarian orthodoxy. Second the complaint fails by way of chronological arrogance. What I mean is that the history of the church owes much to those who regarded vital theological debates as matters worth fighting for. Martin Luther would be thoroughly excoriated by today’s tone police as would Calvin and Athanasius before them. And Machen? Well, he would have been shamed out of all influence in the church.

In the last few days the reformed(ish) and coalition(ish) blogosphere has been all a flutter with praise for Fred Sanders' excellent and devastating review of the latest balderdash from Richard Rohr. If you have not read Dr. Sanders' review you really ought to, especially if you are one of those progressive PCA folks who like quoting Rohr.

What is curious about the praise pilling up for Sanders’ review is that much of it comes from folks who succumbed to a serious case of the vapors over the tone of this summer’s debate. It's very curious. Both Sanders’ review and the recent debate concern the doctrine of the Trinity. Both are responses to men who affirm the Trinity but whose formulation of such departs from biblical orthodoxy. But, as it turns out, one of the offenders (Rohr) happens to be outside the protected circle of precious coalitions and councils making his doctrine safe for strong condemnation and mockery.

It leads me to believe that perhaps a bit of inconsistency is at work.

The author of a recently discovered blog which has given me no small amount of joy writes about this very thing:

We are so flaccid in our day that much of what passes for Christianity is vulnerable to the teaching Sanders so easily dismisses. I say that in connection to the debate on the Trinity because we all know a review like Sanders’ could not be made of someone securely lodged within the Gospel Coalition, and the very suggestion would be outrageous. That is still a strength: is anybody of the TGC tribe going to decry Fred Sanders for his tone and the fact that he did not publish his review in an academic journal? I actually think his tone is exactly right, and I also think his tone is probably what saved his review from being doomed to obscurity in a theological journal. Congratulations to him and to them.

What else, however, is the attitude toward doctrinal formulation that Ware and Grudem exhibit, and what shall we say of their enablers? Is the difference more than a difference of degree? Distractions and prevarications to gloss over the chaos of private interpretation and maladaptive, innovative appropriations of Christian teaching strike me as the wrong approach and of the same substance as what Sanders exposes.