The Looking Glass War: Responding to Bruce Ware
We see that Dr. Ware has issued an open letter to the three of us.
Over the last four weeks, Dr. Ware's critics have offered on this webpage and elsewhere masses of evidence and argument demonstrating that his position is not consistent with Nicene Trinitarianism and that his use of Nicene language is incompatible with how that language is used in the tradition. He has thus far chosen not to demonstrate where these arguments are wrong but simply to continue asserting his idiosyncratic use of orthodox terminology.
Our criticisms of his material are not new, nor do they emerge from a vacuum. His understanding of the historic position has been critiqued in the past by, among others, Lewis Ayres and Bruce McCormack. We are thus at a loss to know why our criticisms are being portrayed as somehow radical and unexpected, or why they have been singled out for such persistent ire and recrimination over the last few weeks. And we are also at a loss to know how to respond to his latest, beyond referring him once again to those various posts on this blog and elsewhere, and the well-known work of these other theologians. Frankly, there is nothing more to be said.
Therefore, the choice before Dr. Ware and those who agree with his position on the Trinity or who personally disagree with him but still find it a tolerable evangelical expression of the Bible's teaching or who merely enable the promotion of it, is now a very, very simple one: Recant this erroneous theology or stop using the Nicene label to describe it. We deeply hope for the former but we realize that Protestant consciences are bound to the Word of God; and if Dr. Ware and his supporters genuinely believe the Bible and Nicene Trinitarianism are incompatible, they are obliged to do the latter.
We understand that some strands of Baptist and evangelical life have not typically learned the habit of creedal thinking but have tended to emphasize independent Biblicism and personal exegesis. Perhaps that lies at the root of much of this dispute. But this is not to say that the debate is to be understood as taking place between those who take the Bible alone as the authority and those who add to the Bible a separate stream of authoritative tradition. It is rather to say that it is between those who submit to the Bible on the basis of private judgment alone and those who wish to submit to the Bible in the context of the communion of the saints throughout the ages.
Thus, dogmatic theologians are not to act like so many Humpty Dumptys and the church is not located in some land on the far side of Alice’s looking-glass. Creeds and confessions are ecclesiastically sanctioned documents and therefore do not mean whatever we as individuals choose them to mean. They mean what the church has decided they mean through the refining process of theological controversy. It is our duty as Christians to allow these documents to interpret us, not vice versa.
Carl R. Trueman