A few more thoughts on the recent Trinity Debates

One of the interesting things about the intra-Evangelical Complementarian Trinity Debate with a really-long-name, is that people’s positions appear to fall out along some very clear party lines.

The leading American ERAS/ESS/EFS proponents all come from very particular backgrounds. There’s not a lot of surprise in their positions. When you line up other defenders of the same position in the UK, and Australia, it becomes very obvious that there are party lines.

What I think is a most telling fact, even though it’s not a compelling argument in and of itself, is that (so far as I can tell), historical theologians and the like whose field is Patristics, and particularly 4th century Patristics, almost universally reject ERAS as a valid reading of Nicene Orthodoxy. Whether ERAS is right or not, it’s not what historians think pro-Nicene theologians were wanting to say.

That, if anything, ought to give doctrinal theologians a pause. ERAS clearly is novel. It’s a set of categories and an attempt to think about ad intra relationships in a way that our predecessors did not. Even if you think it’s right, you should at least come clean and recognise that it’s new. If you want to argue that it’s ‘in line’ with the tradition, that’s another argument. It’s not the same argument as trying to rustle up some Patristic supports.

Every time someone trots out a quotation in this debate, my critical alarm bells start ringing, “What’s the context of this quotation? What is the overall shape of that author’s theological argument? Is this quotation true to their authorial intention?” Language about Trinity can get really confusing, really fast. And 4th century Greek writers are not easy to translate into clear, comprehensible, nuanced English (pick 2 of 3). It’s easy to find quotations that sound like they support your position, but do they really?

For my part, I think the onus is very much on ERAS proponents to make a case. Classical Trinitarianism doesn’t need to defend itself here – no one on that side of the Nicene fence is trying to say “hey, the Son doesn’t submit to the Father”, but rather, “hey, why are you trying to shoe-horn in authority-submission relations into the ad intra relations of the three hypostaseis? We don’t need that in here thanks very much.” The problems of ERAS remain: how is it not a rejection of a single Will in the Godhead? How does it not violate Divine Simplicity? How is it not over-privileging authority-submission as a paradigm to understand Trinitarian relations?

In terms of the most recent posts, I think Ware did a very admirable job in clarifying his own views. I am sympathetic to his statements that it is ‘hard to see’ the direct Biblical basis for Eternal Generation, but that it still remains a compelling account. It seems to me that Ware is wrong, but has shifted to be less wrong over time.

I have less sympathy for Grudem’s position, because quite frankly Grudem continues to demonstrate to me in his writing and thoughts that he is far from competent in this area: his systematic doctrine textbook is notorious for prooftexting. Appendix 6 in it shows me he doesn’t understand μονογενής in the Fathers, even if he is technically right about John 1. His reasons for rejecting impassibility show me that he has not understood the classical formulation of that doctrine. His prooftexting of historical support for ERAS continues to call into question his ability to read historical texts accurately. And his frank admission that he doesn’t understand Eternal Generation but thinks it would be better replaced by ERAS just seems to confirm this trajectory – Grudem doesn’t understand Nicene Orthodoxy.

I think we’ll see this topic simmer down in the next few weeks. My post chronicling blog-posts on the subject has hit 72 different posts, and that is not even all of them! But it seems this civil war is going to cool down for awhile. I suspect Grudem will formulate something more specific and ‘weighty’ at his ETS presentation, and I think his opponents are going to rip it to pieces, but this isn’t going away. Neither, sadly, are some of the hysterics.

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