A Surrejoinder to Bruce Ware

Over at ref21 my Alliance colleague Nick Batzig has, at my request, graciously allowed a non-Alliance author, Bruce Ware, to offer a measured but firm reply to Liam Goligher and myself.  I am also thankful to Denny Burk for passing on a copy to me in advance, with Bruce Ware’s permission.


 I leave Liam to speak for himself to the substantive theological issues which he raised but here is my surrejoinder on the narrow historical/theological/creedal point which I was making:


1.    Simply claiming the homoousion is not enough to make one a Nicene Trinitarian.  Were it so, history would make no sense.  After all, the term was adopted in 325 but it was another 56 years before Nicene Trinitarianism was finally defined.  The intervening years were largely spent battling over the nature of the relations.  One of the keys to the resolution of this problem was the concept of eternal generation.  Thus, I never denied that Professor Ware claims the homoousion, nor asserted that he is an Arian.  The point at issue is that of the nature of the relations.  In his writings, Professor Ware explicitly rejects the Nicene notion of eternal generation while asserting that of eternal functional submission.  That is in fact a very radical move to make, though not uncommon today.  Yet its popularity does not make it consistent with a Nicene position. In fact, rejection of eternal generation puts you definitively outside of Nicene Trinitarianism.  And that is what I was arguing.  And I cannot see how claiming the homoousion while altering your understanding of the relations does not leave your position vulnerable in the long term to one of the many problems which were debated and rejected between 325 and 381.


2.    In his response Professor Ware argues that the Bible teaches eternal functional submission. I have never doubted or denied that that is what he and others think the Bible teaches. Nor do I doubt that there are historical precedents for this position.  Nor, incidentally, do I reject as anti-Nicene the idea that the relational ordering within the Trinity has any significance for the economy – the medieval era contains fascinating debates within the boundaries of Nicene orthodoxy on why the Son and not the Father became incarnate, for example (and I use it only as such -- this is not an endorsement) Aquinas, Summa 3a.3.8.  I simply deny that contemporary notions of EFS are compatible with the nature of the relations as understood in Nicene orthodoxy as defined in 381 and since then held by the church catholic. 


Nicene Trinitarianism involves a host of commitments – to divine simplicity as classically articulated by Gregory Nazianzus, to the unity of the divine will, to inseparable operations and, of course, to eternal generation.  Repudiation or revision of any one or more of these involves a revision of the whole and thus ceases to be Nicene Trinitarianism.

And while I am happy to hear that none of this is driven by identity politics, it does raise one more question.  Even if we were to grant that Nicene orthodoxy is wrong and Bruce Ware is right --- what does any of this have to do with male-female gender relations?  The answer, I believe, is nothing at all.


I am puzzled at the angst my post seems to have generated.  I have really said nothing more radical than, for example, ‘Someone who rejects transubstantiation is not a Tridentine Catholic.’   Thus, my question still stands: what is the status of Nicene orthodoxy in modern Calvinistic evangelicalism in the USA?


Update 6/12/2016: I am grateful to Michel Barnes, via Steve Wedgeworth, for pointing out that the term homoousion did not become a major point of debate until the mid to late 350s.   I overstated the earliness of the term's significance, though I do not believe that this impacts the overall point I am making.