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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.

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: http://www.booksataglance.com/blog/listen-four-theologians-discuss-trinity-debate/

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."

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