Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Open Communion: A Move Toward the Subjective

Along with considering the proper subjects of baptism, re-establishing (we believe) the apostolic practice of baptism being a church ordinance reserved for believers [those demonstrating credible evidence of repentance and faith], Baptists through the ages have also had to consider the proper subjects of the second ordinance. That is: in our worship services, whom should we invite to partake of the Lord's Supper with us? As I mentioned in a previous post: some Baptist congregations practice open communion, inviting anyone who is a believer to the table. (I've heard that some liberal churches invite all people to the table regardless of faith, but according to Dr. Greg Wills, all Baptist congregations have historically seen faith as a prerequisite to the table.) Some congregations practice close communion, inviting any baptized believer to the table. A few congregations (including the famous Metropolitan Tabernacle in London) practice closed [or strict] communion, only inviting their own members to the table. 

I was raised in the close communion tradition, and I believe that this tradition is best reflective of biblical teaching. I have been surprised to find some Baptist brothers recently arguing for the open communion position. I believe that the practice of open communion is attended by a number of problems: biblically, historically, and practically. In this post, I would like to consider one problem with open communion: namely, the move toward subjectivism.

Our culture is characterized by a focus on the subjective. By subjective, I mean the personal (individual), opinion and experience-based aspect of perceived reality; rather than the objective: the universal (communal), facts-based aspect of reality, focused on what takes place regardless of the individual's perception. The practice of open communion elevates the subjective in two ways: 1. regarding the definition and nature of baptism; 2. regarding the presence of faith.

First: based on New Testament evidence, Baptists agree that "baptism" is properly defined as "the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" [BF&M 2000]. We also agree, based on the Great Commission, Peter's Pentecost sermon, and other New Testament texts, that baptism is to be an initiating ordinance into the church. By inviting the unbaptized to the Lord's Table, even if (according to their own understanding) the individuals involved have been "baptized" as infants, those who advocate open communion are making the definition and nature of baptism a matter of opinion rather than of fact.

Second: as mentioned in the first paragraph above, Baptists who affirm open communion typically invite believers alone to the Lord's Table. But here is an important question: how does a person know if he or she is a believer? In a healthy church situation, a person who comes to faith in Christ will be interviewed by the pastors/elders of the church. Upon finding that the person gives reasonable evidence of conversion, that person will then be baptized before the congregation. Baptism, then, is both a public witness for the one being baptized and to the one being baptized. In baptism, part of what is happening is that the congregation (through the church officer administering the baptism) is confirming that the one receiving baptism has given evidence of true conversion. Apart from baptism, properly administered, the question of whether a person is a believer is entirely subjective. In an open communion scenario, each individual in the congregation, without the confirming testimony of any local church, is invited to determine whether he or she has come to faith. Due the deceitfulness of our hearts, I believe that we need the formal counsel of our brothers and sisters in this matter. Whereas no congregational act is absolutely fool-proof, the close communion tradition, properly articulated, places an additional check upon individual self-deception.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Some Quotes from J.L. Dagg Contra Open Communion

In a previous post, I ended by recommending J.L. Dagg's writings in favor of close communion/membership [the practice of inviting only baptized believers to the Lord's Table and/or church membership] in his Manual of Church Order [found HERE under Section IV]. While I would encourage readers to study the whole section in order to follow his biblical argumentation, I wanted to point out some specific quotes that persuasively summarize key points of his chapter on this.

"Local churches, if organized according to the Scriptures, contain none but baptized persons."

"[In the Great Commission], the separation of baptism from all the other things which Christ had commanded, gives it a peculiar relation to the other things enjoined in the commission; and the order in which it is introduced cannot but signify the proper order for our obedience."

"The church which excludes a Pedobaptist from the Lord’s table, does not design to inflict a punishment on him, but merely to do its own duty, as a body to which the Lord has intrusted one of his ordinances. The simple aim is, to regulate the observance according to the will of the Lord."

"When a church receives an unbaptized person, something more is done than merely to tolerate his error. There are two parties concerned. The acts of entering the church and partaking of its communion are his, and for them he is responsible. The church also acts when it admits him to membership, and authorizes his participation of the communion. The church, as an organized body, with power to receive and exclude members according to rules which Christ has laid down, is responsible for the exercise of this power."


Monday, September 19, 2016

Bury or Cremate? Gospel Witness Must Inform Our Decision

[The following post is adapted and expanded from a blogpost that I originally published on April 12, 2009.]

Dr. Russell Moore, the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has written at least two articles on the issue of burial vs. cremation: "Grave Signs" and "The Empty Tomb and the Emptied Urn." In these articles, Dr. Moore discussed the historical-biblical Christian view on why burial is to be preferred over cremation. He discussed how this issue is related to the Christian hope for the resurrection.

Before being challenged to carefully think through this issue while at seminary, I believed the matter to be so unimportant as to be unworthy of reflection. I did not think that the Bible really addressed this issue. I was (and am) sure that Christian bodies which are burned can still take part in the coming resurrection. I thought that it would be wise to save money by choosing cremation over burial. So I understand how Christians, trying to make a wise decision, can reach the conclusion to cremate.

My current views on the subject, however, are well-summarized by "Steve," who commented on "The Empty Tomb and the Emptied Urn" [I can no longer see his comment online]:
I am sensitive to deep feelings many have about how they cared for bodies of their loved ones. God will raise every believer in a bodily resurrection, regardless of how the dead body was treated or mistreated. In that sense, with regard to God's power and the final outcome, burial vs. cremation does not matter. Yet it does matter to those still living on earth. Our funeral practice should reflect a true biblical theology in which God is profoundly concerned with our bodies. Jesus Christ took on a body, died on the Cross and rose to redeem not just our souls, but also our bodies. We believe in the resurrection of the body, not eternal bodiless life in heaven. Early Christians treated the dead differently from pagans who burned their dead. Burial is not commanded, but expresses hope and respect for the flesh God created. Burial stands against incipient Gnosticism which suggests the body is simply disposable.
Since virtually every person must one day face the issue of burial vs. cremation, we must give this matter careful consideration. Those who follow Christ must seek wisdom first and foremost from God's Word. We should also look to how our older brothers and sisters in Christ have thought through this issue in past centuries.

Within the Reformed tradition, the Second Helvetic Confession directly addresses the subject of burial in Chapter 26, with the following words:
The Scripture directs that the bodies of the faithful, as being temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19; cf. John 2:21-22), which we truly believe shall rise against at the last day, should be honorably, without any superstition, committed to the earth; and, besides, that we should make honorable mention of those who died in the Lord (cf. Rev 14:13)... we do greatly mislike the Cynics, who neglected the bodies of the dead, or did carelessly and disdainfully cast them into the earth,
The framers of the Second Helvetic Confession saw this as a matter of Christian witness vs. paganism. In this, they were in line with Augustine, who also wrote on the propriety of burial. For more information on Augustine's view, with some additional considerations of this issue, I recommend Daniel Scheiderer's excellent article: "Cremation? Burial? A Simple Commentary on Augustine."


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Reflections on the Word

In discussing the Christology of John Calvin on an episode of Reformed Forum, Scott Oliphint observed:
There has been no revelation of God from the beginning that has not been mediated through the second Person of the Trinity. Such that He is the one, as the one sent, who from the beginning has condescended to interact with creation.
Old Testament Christophanies [as in the Angel of the LORD] are forward-looking to the incarnation. In the Old Testament, the eternal Word temporarily assumed created attributes (visibility, locality, temporality); these were a demonstration of our need for God to condescend toward us, that He might stoop down to rescue us and dwell with us, becoming like us—for us and our salvation—while not compromising His deity. In the New Testament, the eternal Word permanently assumes human nature, fulfilling all the Old Testament patterns, prophecies, and legal demands.

Moreover, knowledge of God, who is spirit, is always mediated to His creation through the Word: from creation in Genesis 1 to the call of Abram in Genesis 12, from the vision of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37 to the coming of the Word in flesh (John 1:14), God has always been known by His Word. The NT identification of Jesus Christ as the “Word” who is with God and who is God (John 1:1) is fundamental to a right understanding of who God is. That our knowledge of God is a mediated knowledge is one reason why it is so important for us to acknowledge and proclaim that there is “one Mediator between God and Man” (1 Tim 2:5b): that is, Christ Jesus, who is both fully God and fully Man.

Questioning the absolute identification of the means of God’s self-revelation with the eternal Word, Camden Bucey of Reformed Forum asked Dr. Oliphint about Matthew 3:13-17 (the passage focused on the baptism of Jesus, where the Father’s voice is heard from Heaven, and the Spirit descends as a dove). Oliphint answered:
What we have in this passage of Matthew is just a great example of… God’s triune condescension with its revelatory focus in the Son, because the Father is speaking—He condescends in that way, to speak—but His speaking has its own focus in the Son and the Spirit condescends in the form of a dove, but He’s descending in order to be with and in the Son. And so you have the Father and the Spirit there in their condescension modes focusing their attention on the Son Himself as the preeminent revelation.


Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Questions and Responses to Dr. Richard Mayhue: "An Overview of Christ-Centered Preaching"

As part of a recent on-line discussion about Reformed vs. Dispensational exegesis, a friend directed me to this video of the 2/2/2016 Chapel from The Master’s Seminary. In this video, Dr. Richard Mayhue speaks teaches against Christ-centered preaching, as practiced by “Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists.” As a Reformed Baptist myself, who has been trained in the kind of Christ-centered approach Dr. Mayhue decries, I offer the following questions and responses.

Questions that need to be answered:

Re: “I still haven’t found Christ in there [i.e., in the Song of Solomon], if it is interpreted as God intended it.”

-How did God intend the Song of Solomon to be interpreted? How does Dr. Mayhue know? Do our methods of interpretation come from natural philosophy, or is Scripture sufficient to provide its own interpretive methods? These questions are foundational.

QUESTION: Does Dr. Mayhue really intend to say that only the Pentateuch, Psalms, and Prophets speak of Christ, so that when preaching through other OT texts, we should not think that divinely-inspired Scripture points to Him?

Dr. Mayhue criticizes those who would view Scripture through three grids placed upon the text: Covenant Theology, Redemptive-Historical Trajectory, and Christ-Centered Preaching. He says that those who view the text through these three grids will never come to the actual point of the passage. But if these grids are actually established by the text of Scripture itself, then wouldn’t looking at individual texts through these grids actually be an exercise in properly allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture?

Dr. Mayhue asserts that the proper approach to hermeneutics is the historical-grammatical approach. Whereas I agree with this (though wishing to add canonical/Christocentic to the hermeneutical label), we must ask where Dr. Mayhue gets that approach. After he comes to that approach, does he then read every text in light of that approach? Isn’t this also taking a grid through which he is viewing the specific texts? These questions could also be raised regarding his other hermeneutical principles, outlined below.

3 proper hermeneutical principles, according to Dr. Mayhue:
1.     The grammatical-historical approach to interpretation;
2.    Each text has a single meaning;
3.    Each text should be viewed in accordance with the authorial intent of the text.

Whereas many within the Reformed community would affirm the grammatical-historical approach to Scripture, we would also want to add (as noted above) that our approach should be Christocentric/canonical. Whereas many within the Reformed community would also emphasize the authorial intent of the text, we would also want to reckon with the fact that Scripture’s ultimate author is the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). Therefore, even the Old Testament authors were concerned with spiritual salvation in Christ (1 Peter 1:10-12), though that salvation was not revealed to them in fullness, being foreshadowed under types until the incarnation.

Dr. Mayhue believes that a Christocentric reading of Scripture “sidelines” the Father and the Spirit. However, it is impossible to focus on the Son without also focusing on the Father (John 14:9). It is manifestly evident from Scripture that it is through knowing Christ that we know God (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 2:23).

Dr. Mayhue asserts that it is wrong to find types of Christ in the Old Testament that Scripture does not intend. Can he cite anyone who asserts that it is right to find types of Christ that Scripture does NOT intend? Isn’t the hermeneutical debate on this point over whether Scripture INTENDS types of Christ to be found in the Old Testament? Isn’t Dr. Mayhue begging the question on this point?

Dr. Mayhue poses the question: “Why preach a veiled Christ from the Old Testament, when you can preach a clearly revealed Christ from the New?” I believe that it would be hard for him to find an example of a Reformed preacher who preached a sermon in which he left Christ veiled, not moving forward in the story-line of Scripture from whatever the main text was under consideration, in order to show how the veil was lifted in the New. Though in sections of his sermon, Dr. Mayhew wants to affirm preaching from the Old Testament, some of his statements have a Marcionite ring to them. The preacher who follows Dr. Mayhue’s advice will either ignore the Old Testament or he will be left with large sections of Holy Scripture in which we cannot make a “bee-line to the Cross,” as Spurgeonsaid. This is to say that following Dr. Mayhue’s advice, if a preacher was committed to exposition of Scripture verse-by-verse, then there may be many Old Testament sermons in which the gospel was absent. A gospel-less sermon, I would contend, is no Christian sermon at all, leaving the unconverted in their sinful state under the wrath of God. We should not treat the Old Testament as if it were the New Testament—Christ is indeed veiled in the Old Testament—but we must be able to demonstrate how each part of the Old Testament calls for, sets the stage for, and is fulfilled by the New Testament in Christ.


Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Books at a Glance Trinity Podcast: Transcript of Dr. Wellum's Contribution

Recently, the Books at a Glance website released a podcast in which Fred Zaspel conducted an interview on the current Trinity debates within evangelicalism. The featured a panel of the following theologians:

  •       Dr. Mike Ovey, Oak Hill College, London, UK
  •         Dr. Fred Sanders, Torey Honors Institute, Biola University, La Marida, CA
  •          Dr. Scott Swain, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, FL
  •         Dr. Steve Wellum. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY

You can listen to the entire panel discussion at the following link:

Of the names mentioned above, I am most familiar with Dr. Wellum. As a new student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, I ended up taking Dr. Wellum’s course in Biblical Hermeneutics. I had previously given serious attention to biblical hermeneutics on my own, so I was quite surprised at how much I learned from Dr. Wellum, who taught me a great deal about typology, analogical vs. univocal language concerning God, and Biblical Theology: areas I had never explored before. After that Biblical Hermeneutics class, I took as many classes from Dr. Wellum as I could; I took his class on the Person of Christ, his class on the Work of Christ, and two sections of classes on “Issues in Biblical and Systematic Theology.” Though I do have a couple of areas of disagreement with Dr. Wellum—specifically regarding his “ProgressiveCovenantalism” —in general, I have learned to trust him as a teacher, having seen how he carefully works through the details of biblical texts, then puts them in a whole-Bible context, drawing sound theological conclusions.

For this reason, in the panel discussion linked above, I was most interested in hearing what Dr. Wellum had to say. (Plus: Dr. Richard Barcellos, who I also respect, recommended Dr. Wellum’s contribution to this discussion.) The following is a transcript of Dr. Wellum’s contributions to the discussion, with some headings I’ve added:

3:57, Introduction

“Great to be with you. I'm professor of Theology at [the] Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and my interest in this [trinitarian discussion] is obviously just tied to the knowledge of God, and who God is as the triune God, as well as just finishing a work on Christology, so I've tried to get at these issues, thinking of who Jesus is, and then tied obviously to the triune relations. And so that's where I've come in. And also I've had plenty of conversations with one of the individuals who is sort of at the center of the debate: my friend Bruce Ware. So I come from that end of things.”

8:50, Person/Nature Distinction; “Authority” and “Will”

"It seems to me that there's a lot going on in the [current trinitarian] debate, but there's a larger question of the entire person/nature distinction. What constitutes 'person'? What constitutes 'divine nature'? There is the historic position of how to distinguish the persons and the definition of 'person'. [But now there's] sort of a newer view that may be tied to some social trinitarian understandings, and some of the acceptance or rejections of that. Particularly with Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware and others there's sort of a problem with the traditional way of distinguishing persons-and thus the definition of [divine] persons as 'paternity,' 'eternal generation,' 'procession'-and then substituting that for another way of distinguishing the persons, thus coming up with somewhat of a different sense of what 'person' is, and particularly the difference of 'person' [according to Grudem, Ware, et al.] is that you have authority: authority now becomes the primary way of distinguishing the persons, where historically I would say that wasn't the case. [However,] there's been some taking back in the current discussion (particularly I'll speak on behalf of Bruce Ware), that there was this sort of flirting with loading up in person the notion of will, so that we then have three wills in the Godhead, and that's different than has been historically conceived of 'will' as tied to nature. So that's part of the mix as well: how you distinguish the persons, what a 'person' is, and how that has implications for the understanding of 'nature' as well."

23:30, The Classic Distinction of Divine Persons vs. a Contemporary Model

"Clearly, we have to [articulate] how we're going to distinguish the divine persons; there's a mixing of ways of doing so. Speaking in terms of 'paternity' [and] 'sonship/generation'-relations of origin-that's been the historic ways of doing that, and [now] we're mixing authority in there... It's one thing to say, 'Relations of origin: sonship; it's fitting that the Son obeys, and now you have from the pactum to ad extra relations in the economy,' and so on, to then say, 'Oh, I'm not going to hold [to], or I have problems with that [classical] way of distinguishing persons, and instead I'm going to substitute authority relations as the way of distinguishing Father from Son from Spirit: so the Father has ultimacy, the Father has authority more than the Son has authority,' and then say, 'Authority just is simply a person/role relation; it's not tied to the divine nature and divine attributes,' which is the argument that's made. But the problem with that is: [divine] authority is very difficult to conceive of apart from divine omnipotence, divine omniscience, [etc.]. So when you start saying, 'Ultimate authority or ultimate glory is tied to authority,' this muddies the waters, and you have to have a clear discussion of: how do we distinguish the persons, and how has the Church thought to do so on the basis of Scripture? And then: how does authority fit in there? So for myself, I think it's wiser to stick with the history of the Church here and then speak of Father, Son, and Spirit have equal authority, yet they express that authority in terms of Father, Son, and Spirit: in terms of eternal relation of origin. And that's what's getting muddied in this entire discussion, so that many people on the 'functional subordination' issue, they're having problems with relations of origin, modes of subsistence, as ways of distinguishing the persons, and they're substituting, I don't think a grammar that the Church has used, and it's leading to talking past one another instead of clarity in terms of the entire discussion."

43:25, Ad Extra/Ad Intra and Taxis

"Clearly, the economy reveals something of who God is, yet there has to be a distinction between ad intra/ad extra, and carefully; we do not have exhaustive knowledge, but we have true knowledge. And then you have analogical revelation, so the emphasis on not being univocal, but analogical, especially as it comes over into human relationships, has to be preserved. And in terms of the incarnation: you can't read back into Christ's humanity in incarnation back into eternal relations. So, I mean, as I've tried to put these together and be faithful to what the history of the Church has said about the nature of the incarnation, the nature of Christ's mission, active obedience, and a strong defender of penal substitution. It seems to me we have to, say out of John 5, speak of Christ the Son in His humanity and yet it's pushing back in terms of Father, Son, and then Spirit, but particularly Father/Son relationship; so there is an ordering of persons. Now, there is a taxis, there is an ordering: God in Himself necessarily, it's eternal, it's necessary, it's not just voluntary (the Son could do this/the Father could do that). They inseparably act together: the Father's the Father; the Son is from the Father is how we distinguish. Yet the problem is when we start reading these authority relations in terms of the way of distinguishing the persons. So you can argue that the Son is the Son; He's always from the Father, He never acts independently of the Father and vice-versa, yet the Father as Father acts as Father, the Son as Son, the Spirit as Spirit. So it's fitting that the Son is the one who becomes incarnate, the one who does the Father's will, and so on, in those relations. Yet to then say that the Father has more authority: my problem is that authority isn't just a personal property that distinguishes the persons; authority is tied ultimately to the very nature of who God is. So you want to preserve the distinction of persons; the ordering, the taxis, from ad intra shows itself ad extra, yet you want to be very, very careful of mixing, then, authority relations as the way of saying one [divine person] has more authority or less. I think it's being corrected recently, but even some of the discussion where you have [people saying], 'Well, the Father could have unilaterally acted independent of the Son and the Spirit' [in that case], you have some real problems of how the persons are eternally and necessarily related:  you have problems of inseparable operations. So it's one thing to say the Son is from the Father: we have to [say that] that's the way you distinguish: eternal generation. And it's fitting that He is the obedient one; He does the will of the Father, and so on, without then reading in everything of authority. And tying authority then carefully to the plan of divine decrees ad extra, and what God is in Himself. What does it mean for the Son to submit to the Father from eternity? Those are difficult, difficult areas that we have to be very, very careful on."

48:15, “What Does Sonship Entail?” and the Question of Authority

"There's debate as to [the question] 'what does sonship entail?' and 'how does it work itself out?' and so on, without having any notion of subordination that's brought in. I think that's a legitimate debate, and that's where I defend my colleague [Bruce Ware] in saying, 'He's not Arian or semi-Arian,' and he's describing things I don't think in a wise way of distinguishing persons, yet he's trying to get at those further Father-Sonship-Spirit relations. But we do have to exercise great caution and the authority relation-what authority is within God versus what's authority in human relationships and it's outworking, even in terms of the incarnation I think must be carefully thought through as well, because there's a creaturely kind of authority in relationships that doesn't pertain to the relations in divine persons as well. And so that's not only ad intra/ad extra, but also Creator/creature distinction that seems to-if we're not careful-I know in some of the discussion here, especially as it gets sometimes tied to (often tied to) the complementarian issue, it looks pretty univocal, and we have to be very careful while we preserve [exploration of] what sonship is, and the obedience of the Son (active obedience), imputation: all those areas I want to affirm as well. I'm just leery of putting too much of the distinction of persons in terms of higher/lesser authority."

58:20, Divine Will

"We have one divine will tied to the divine nature, defined more in terms (I think) of its capacity, so that all three persons share the one divine will and act through that one divine will... and they act inseparably, but that does not remove the distinction of persons, so the Father as Father acts through the Son by Spirit, yet they inseparably act together. so that in creation, providence, revelation, redemption, all three persons are active as Father, Son, and Spirit. So you're keeping distinction of three-ness of person in the one-ness of nature, yet it’s in and through the divine nature that they share that they act... [This] is crucial to the debate because some of, not all, but some of the previous discussion of functional subordination has tended to assume or not carefully lay out the assumption of three wills, and they were loading up in terms of 'person' a different concept of 'will,' and capacity, agency, everything is put in terms of person, and that's going to create problems both Christologically in terms of two wills in Christ and also [in] this whole discussion of the relation of person."

1:03:25, Christ and Human Obedience

"Obviously, the Son become incarnate, He does the work of the last Adam and obeys, yet He has the very identity of YHWH... How does He have the identity of YHWH? He is God co-equal with the Father, and yet He is the Son: the Son who comes, and He is the one who obeys as a man. And you have to keep all of that together without too much of this notion of hierarchy ad intra. And that [hierarchy within God ad intra] does lead to some wrong directions."

1:04:55, Christ is One Person

"Obviously, you can't separate the one who's become Savior in His humanity apart from the one who is Lord as well. Otherwise, you have no penal substitution, you have no Savior, and you have no Jesus of the Bible, right?"

1:10:28, Sola Scriptura and the Creeds

"I want to say sola ScripturaSola Scriptura is not independent of the creeds. Creeds are secondary standards. Yet, through the history of the Church-not every creed and confession is legitimate, it has to be put under the authority of Scripture, we have lots of creeds that people have propounded in the history of the Church that we reject: the Roman Catholic creeds, the Eastern Orthodox creeds, and so on-on these particular issues (particularly 'Trinity' and then as it impacts Christology) there is a weight to these creeds, and the way the Church has put this together, because it has stood the test of time, it has been universally accepted in the Church, as so on... On these particular issues, you're going to have to be very, very careful [about] substitut[ing] other grammars, other ways of speaking, without careful. careful argument. And that's some of the problem here: that sort of cavalier sense that you get from some that [indicates], 'Well, we'll just get rid of eternal generation because it's oxymoronic to us, and we don't understand it, and therefore we'll just put something else in its place. And that, to me, is dangerous, even though we would say the creeds are secondary standards. So that on the basis of these trinitarian and Christological formulations, one has to be very, very careful. And then I'd want to make the case, even on atonement issues, that through development of the history of the Church-[especially] Reformation, post-Reformation era-there's been clarity that's come in those matters as well (that often we don't argue, the same way that we do for trinity and Christology). The creeds are secondary, Scripture is in authority over them, yet they do give direction to our thinking and they have been through the test of time, and to depart from them, you're going to have to be very careful."


Monday, August 01, 2016

Richard Barcellos on Divine Impassibility

On a recent Theology on the Go podcast, Dr. Jonathan Master interviewed Dr. Richard Barcellos on the subject of divine impassibility. In just over 27 minutes, Dr. Barcellos gave clear and concise consideration to the following topics:

  • The Basic Definition of Divine Impassibility
  • The Language of Impassibility in Reformed Confessions
  • The Creator/Creature Distinction
  • The Importance of Divine Impassibility
  • Divine Impassibility and Divine Immutability
  • Divine Impassibility, Divine Perfection, and “Pure Act”
  • The Scriptural Basis for the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility
  • Divine Impassibility and Scripture Passages Ascribing Emotions to God
  • Analogical vs. Univocal Language Concerning God
  • Recommended Reading for the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility

Listen to the podcast at the following link:


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

John Piper on "Trinitarian Thinking and Feeling"

[The following is from John Piper, Think: TheLife of the Mind and the Love of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 34-35.]

One of the gifts Edwards gave to me, which I had not found anywhere else, was a foundation for human thinking and feeling in the Trinitarian nature of God. I don’t mean that others haven’t seen human nature rooted in God’s nature. I simply mean that the way Edwards saw it was extraordinary. He showed me that human thinking and feeling do not exist arbitrarily; they exist because we are in the image of God, and God’s “thinking” and “feeling” are more deeply part of his Trinitarian being than I had realized. Prepare to be boggled. Here is Edwards’s remarkable description of how the persons of the Trinity relate to each other. Notice that God the Son stands forth eternally as a work of God’s thought. And God the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as the act of their joy.

This I suppose to be the blessed Trinity that we read of in the Holy Scriptures. The Father is the deity subsisting in the prime, unoriginated and most absolute manner, or the deity in its direct existence. The Son is the deity generated by God’s understanding, or having an idea of Himself and subsisting in that idea. The Holy Ghost is the deity subsisting in act, or the divine essence flowing out and breathed forth in God’s infinite love to and delight in Himself. And I believe the whole Divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the Divine idea and Divine love, and that each of them are properly distinct persons. [Jonathan Edwards, “An Essay on the Trinity,” in Treatise on Grace and Other Posthumously Published Writings, ed. Paul Helm (Cambridge, UK: Clarke, 1971), 118.]
In other words, God the Father has had an eternal image and idea of himself that is so full it is another Person standing forth—distinct as the Father’s idea, yet one in divine essence. And God the Father and the Son have had an eternal joy in each other’s excellence that carries so fully what they are that another Person stands forth, the Holy Spirit—distinct as the Father and Son’s delight in each other, yet one in divine essence. There never was a time when God did not experience himself this way. The three Persons of the Trinity are coeternal. They are equally divine.

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Friday, July 08, 2016

Trinity Blogposts by Dr. Sam Waldron

In 2011, Dr. Sam Waldron (Dean of Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary) published a series of blogposts on the Trinity. Dr. Waldron's posts come in response to the debate (which has recently re-surfaced) over whether the Son is eternally submissive to the Father. In exploring this subject, he examines issues such as, "How can [the Nicene] Creed in some sense identify the Father as the 'One God'?" and the Father as the source of all being. Dr. Waldron affirms the doctrine that the Son is "eternally begotten" of the Father. Among other beliefs articulated in these posts, Dr. Waldron argues that:
the Nicene doctrine of eternal generation is the historical and biblical basis for holding what is (perhaps a little clumsily) called by recent theologians the eternal, functional subordination of the Son [EFS], the eternal functional subordination of the Son is consistent with His full and undiluted deity, and finally this Nicene doctrine of Trinity undercuts the fundamental premise of Egalitarianism that equality of nature and subordination of role are inconsistent.
This line of thinking places him in a kind of middle ground regarding the current debate on the Trinity. Dr. Waldron, unlike many on the EFS side of the debate, is fully convinced that the "eternally begotten" language of the creeds is well-grounded in Scripture. However, unlike many on the other side of the debate, Dr. Waldron believes that EFS is properly grounded in the doctrine of eternal generation.

Links to Dr. Waldron's posts:

Part 1, Introduction

Christians should enjoy the opportunity to contemplate, and perhaps better understand, the God we love.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

God the Son: Eternally Begotten AND Eternally Submissive?

[Here's something I originally posted on 2/18/14. With some current controversies within evangelicalism, it suddenly seems timely.]

The Baptist Confession of Faith (1689), 2.3:
In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided: the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him.
(Matt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14; Exo 3:14; John 14:11; 1 Cor 8:6; John 1:14, 18; John 15:26; Gal 4:6)


In an article focused on BCF 1689 2.3 [found HERE], Stefan Lindblad makes several helpful observations. For example, Lindblad notes that unlike in human begetting, in which the generic human essence is divided- and, by virtue of being begotten, a human being moves from a state of potentiality (non-existence) to actuality (existence)- God the Son is begotten of God the Father eternally (both Father and Son always exist), with no division of the divine essence. The doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son is both "expressly set down" and "necessarily contained" in Scripture (BCF 1689 1.10).


In his article, Lindblad defends the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son against current evangelical skeptics. In the final section of his article, Lindblad specifically focuses on Bruce Ware's teaching the Son's eternal distinction from and relation to the Father is best understood in terms of eternal functional submission RATHER THAN the Son being eternally begotten. Ware writes:
The conceptions of both the "eternal begetting of the Son" and "eternal procession of the Spirit" seem to me highly speculative and not grounded in biblical teaching. Both the Son as only-begotten and the Spirit as proceeding from the Father (and the Son) refer, in my judgment, to the historical realities of the incarnation and Pentecost, respectively. [Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationship, Roles, and Relevance 162, n 3]
By contrast, Lindblad objects to Ware's exegesis of 1 Corinthians 11:3 in which Ware asserts that Paul teaches that male headship is "a reflection of the authority and submission that exists in the eternal Godhead."

Notice, however, that the positions are not mutually exclusive, as both Lindblad and Ware seem to believe. There is no reason why, accepting Lindblad's defense of eternal generation, the reader must then necessarily reject Ware's exegesis of 1 Cor 11:3 (or vice versa). Eternal generation and eternal functional submission may be complementary rather than contradictory.

It is interesting that Lindblad makes the exact same objections to eternal functional submission that Ware and other evangelical critics make to eternal generation. Ware believes that the biblical language regarding the Son's being begotten or the Spirit's proceeding only refers to these Persons activity in time whereas language regarding the Son's submission to the Father reflects an eternal reality. Lindblad believes that the biblical language concerning the Son's submission to the Father only refers to the Son's work in redemption whereas language regarding the Son being begotten reflects an eternal reality. Both Ware and Lindblad believe that the other man's position logically necessitates Arianism or subordinationism whereas their own position in no way lends support to the Arian or subordinationist position.

What if both are right (AND both are wrong)? That is: what if the biblical language regarding the Son's being begotten AND the biblical language regarding the Son's submission to the Father all reflect eternal realities concerning the Persons within the Godhead? What if NEITHER position lends support to Arianism, as both positions involve eternal realities (none in this conversation teach that "there was a time when He was not:" the definitional statement of Arianism) and both positions teach eternal co-equality of Being shared by the Persons of the Trinity?