A Fulfilled Prophecy and Another Guest Post from Mark Jones

When the Spin posted the first of Liam’s articles a few weeks ago, somebody asked me how I thought things would develop.  Based on past experience of such things, I predicted behind-the-scenes shenanigans to shut down the discussion; relentless criticisms of 'tone' pitched in a 'tone' far nastier and more personal than anything we might have written; a prolonged social media campaign of character assassination through the impugning of our motives and honesty; and attempts at the revision of classical terms to bring creedal language into line with the theology under scrutiny.  I was right on all points.


Anyway, as to the first: well, as of this moment we’re all still here. As to the second, self-awareness has never been a strong suit among militant social media types, Left and Right, and evangelical conservatives can tend just as easily in polemical contexts towards the 'taste is truth' position as their liberal opponents.  As to the third, I have repeatedly said over the years that character assassination and evil motives may discredit me as a person but are irrelevant when it comes to the intrinsic quality of any argument I happen to be making.  As to the fourth, I post below an article by Mark Jones, addressing Bruce Ware’s helpful clarification of his position in relation to Nicaea.


Mark Jones writes:


I am glad to see Bruce Ware speaking to specific points that have been addressed in recent weeks. Credit is due to him for engaging. I hope the initial rhetoric that some continue to lament can be put aside now in favor of engaging the issues at hand in more detail.

While I think Ware is doing his best to move in a more nuanced, orthodox direction, his piece left me confused at points and still unsatisfied that he has answered the various objections that have been made against his theology.

1. In point 1, Ware cites Anatolios, who is speaking of Nyssa, but I question whether he’s properly using Anatolios.

Less than ten pages earlier in the book Ware is using, it seems that Anatolios understands Nyssa’s trinitarian language to be focused on matters of biblical interpretation and economy, not the divine essence (more on this in my 6th point below).

If you read all of what Anatolios has to say on the topic, especially the pages prior to the quote that Ware uses, you will find that each person (ad extra) becomes the “subject” of the one divine will. We do not have one becoming the subject and the other the object, or two acting as subjects of the divine will, such as would be necessary on an ESS model. Ware builds authority-submission into ad intra relations, which means he has an object and subject view of the one divine will. No wonder that his student, Kyle Claunch, had interpreted Ware as holding to three wills (in a book edited by Ware).

In point 2 Ware speaks of “activating” the divine will. I’m not sure how he can retain divine simplicity with this type of language. This also has implications for divine immutability, which, if I am not mistaken, is another doctrine where Ware departs from the classical view.

2. In point one, I am still unclear how Ware relates “inseparable operations” (e.g., EG) with “appropriations” (e.g., economic works). It is one thing for Ware to affirm “inseparable operations,” but quite another thing for him to show us how he can retain the theology of “inseparable operations.” Perhaps my biggest discomfort with Ware so far is his inability to make his affirmations actually work or show some degree of coherency when he explains himself.

3. In point three I am at a loss as to what Ware is speaking about. Is he speaking about the one will of God? Or is his speaking about the Son’s human will? If the former, then he seems to run into the error of monothelitism; if the latter then he is assuming that Christ’s human willing in submission to the Father’s divine ad extra will is to be read back into eternal necessary relations. Either way, he’s in trouble. Given the context, I think he’s probably saying that the Son “activates” the one will of God in his response to the Father’s authority. If that is the case, his point is still incoherent for this reason, namely, that the Son freely wills what is good not because he is in submission to what is good, but because he (and his will) is good. (Again, divine simplicity is affected by this reasoning in my view).

Just before, in point 2, Ware seems to run into the danger of monothelitism. He writes: “As a result, we can conceive, for example, how the Father can plan, purpose and will to send the Son (John 6:38; Eph 1:9; 1 John 4:10), and the Son accept and embrace the will of the Father (John 4:34). These are ‘distinct inflections’ of the one and unified divine will, as seen from the particular hypostatic perspectives of the Father and the Son.”

But John 4:34 is speaking of Christ, according to his human will, not his “divine will.” So it seems to me that Ware is operating with the assumption that Christ has one will, not two, which would be an unorthodox view. How can those who support him not understand why we have serious reservations when he makes statements like this? At best he is unclear and speaking highly “improperly”; at worst he is holding to a view that was firmly rejected in the Early Church.

His third point on freedom is meaningless and distracting unless we grant at the outset that his categories of authority and submission are already true of eternal ad intra Trinitarian relations, rather than what is true in the area of free personal relations in the ad extra economy of salvation which involves the God-man’s submission to the Father, according to his human will.

4. In point 4 we find that, despite recent criticisms, Ware continues to build the model of authority-submission into the immanent Trinity. He even thinks that his model strengthens our conception of modes of subsistence. He assumes that eternal generation is practically synonymous with the Father having authority over the Son. He thinks modes of subsistence and eternal relations of authority and submission “work like hand and glove.”

Oddly, as far as I can tell, the Christian tradition has not embraced this view. I don’t even know how the “inflection” of the one will would work in the classical modes of subsistence. In fact, it can’t. That is why Ware has to build authority-submission into modes of subsistence. He has to try to make it work. But he doesn’t explain how the Son submits to the Father in modes of subsistence. If these two models fit like hand and glove it is hard to understand why no one else has come to this remarkable conclusion until recently.

There is a frustrating elision in his explanation from differentiation to the categories of authority/submission. This includes a very telling question he raises in 2: “Can there be a will of authority (from the Father) and a will of submission (from the Son) without conceiving of separate and separable divine wills?”

He asks can there be, but we respond, why must there be? Why this interest in that particular kind of relationship dynamic? It is clearly the case that he, like others, begins with the category of authority/submission and looks for something in the Trinity that could approximate, and ultimately, ground it. I think our thinking should be precisely in the other direction. He is not only toying with the tradition, but actually reinventing it with this move.

Ware seems to me to collapse eternal modes of subsistence with matters of taxis. The burden of proof for him is in demonstrating that the Trinitarian language of Father/Son is language for authority/submission rather than to express some other facet(s) of paternity and filiation, such as EG. He skips from one to the other because of the creaturely language of (one facet of) father/son relations.

In other words, Ware assumes that “father/son” means or equals “authority/submission” simpliciter. But “father/son” has to do with EG et al.; it is not automatically a “rule” category. Rather than just assume it because human father-son relations include authority dynamics (among other things), he has to justify why Trinitarian father/son is automatically a “rule” matter.

I think that Ware is working with a rather modern view of will. The Father-Son role accents responsibility rather than rule of authority. The assumption that Father-Son entails, immediately or centrally, an authority or rule category is actually rather modern. He needs to justify his leap.
We could also argue that Father-Son identities entail a conclusion that is at odds with eternality, viz., the conclusion that the Father must be older than the Son, since fathers are, by nature, older than sons.

5. It seems to me that Ware wants to make affirmations, but then he offers explanations that take away or implicitly contradict his affirmations. His supporters seem not to care about this.

In one case, can we even call the following an affirmation? Ware writes: “So, while I remain unconvinced at present that specific texts in Scripture teach [eternal generation], I accept and embrace it as the ‘church’s doctrine’ and the only genuine explanation that grounds the Father as eternal Father, and the Son as eternal Son.”

Indeed, I can understand why at this point in the controversy this is a good thing to “affirm” but in his other works Ware nowhere (as far as I can see) uses eternal generation to fulfill this function and in fact dismisses it as highly speculative and not grounded in biblical teaching – not simply that he is unconvinced that it is taught by specific biblical texts.  To give credibility to this claim of affirmation, it would seem that significant public reworking of his earlier Trinitarian writings must now take place. 

Ware is by no means a liberal. But I went to four liberal universities and it was not uncommon to hear liberal professors speak of affirming the church’s teaching even though the Bible doesn’t really teach that particular teaching. Again, Ware is not a liberal, but this type of affirmation has corollaries to the stuff I regularly heard from my teachers for years.  

6. I still do not understand why Ware does not speak in ad intra versus ad extra terms. That would help clarify his position. As it stands, we are still left guessing or filling in the blanks. It even causes him to use Anatolios in a way that is not entirely germane to the discussion.

I also do not quite follow what he means when he speaks of “functional and hypostatic.” He makes ontology more ultimate than hypostases. Suggesting the three persons are “eternal” but not “ontological” is quite a curious thing to do. One should never say that “hypostatic” is not an ontological category. Common and personal properties are ontological.

His reluctance is due to his not seeing “specific texts” which teach this, but what specific texts does he see teaching - on their own terms only! - any other truth of trinitarianism, including his own ESS/ERAS? Or any other doctrine? That’s not how theology works. I say this as one who agrees that John 5:26 is speaking about economy, not ontology.

Final Observations

Bruce Ware has affirmed one will; he has sort of embraced eternal generation.

But he has only affirmed those doctrines insofar as they work in subjection to his authority-submission model. That is to say, it appears to me that his authority/submission model is at the center of his Trinitarian metaphysics, and so he’s attempting to understand everything (aseity, essence, person, etc.) through that position. He will affirm one divine will or EG in light of this model, which, in my view, poses more problems than solutions. It is confusing stuff.

It is not only important to affirm orthodox doctrines, but also to know how those orthodox doctrines work, especially before critiquing them as Ware has done in the past. I’m not convinced yet that Ware has been able to make his model work. I’m not convinced that his view of God’s will is the same as the classical view of God’s will. I’m also persuaded that his view demands a form of Monothelitism.

Ware has many published statements that need to be retracted. His student, Kyle Claunch, also should take great pains to get that section, where he speaks of Ware affirming three wills, revised as quickly as possible since Albert Mohler has said that is a heretical view (see this post).

Returning to the tone: We are simply saying that raising issues of meaning and coherence should not cause others to call us “heresy hunters”, as Denny Burk did recently on Twitter. I have not called anyone a heretic. I am not in a position to even declare Bruce Ware or Wayne Grudem a heretic. That is left to the church.

I am in a position, however, to use my own knowledge of history and theology to question the coherence of the ESS/ERAS position.

So far, Russell Moore and Albert Mohler have both assured us that while they do not agree with Ware, his position is not heretical. Okay. Let us grant that. But I think that the authority-submission model built into the immanent Trinity is dangerous. Those associated with the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood need to publicly distance themselves from these errors if complementarians like myself are going to take them seriously. I’m fairly certain I’m not alone in these wishes.