Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Special Kind of Scripturalist

It takes is a special kind of Scripturalist to use historical development of a doctrine as the basis upon which to say, “No, you’ve got it all wrong.” Yet, that is exactly what Sean Gerety has done (link)... or rather, is trying to do, as he as yet has not even correctly handled the history of the Trinity. I keep waiting for him to address the following arguments, any one of which is sufficient to devastate his view of the Trinity:

1. Scripture always refers to the Father alone is always the referent of “one God” (Romans 3:30, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Ephesians 4:6, 1 Timothy 2:5) or “[only] true God” (John 17:3, 1 Thessalonians 1:9, 1 John 5:20). (link)

2. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is not the Son of a set of divine attributes, He’s the Son of a person. (link)

3. Divine [or human] attributes are predicated of persons. Persons are not predicated of divine [or human] attributes. (link)

4. Scripture always refers to the Father as Παντοκράτωρ or παντοκράτορος (“Almighty”). (link)

5. Not once does Sean himself examine what the Nicene Creed says. Allow me: The Creed says “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty.” The Creed says the Son is “God of God.” When the creed says that the Son is “God of God,” it is saying the Son is God out from (ek) the Father, or the Father is the source of the Son. Thus, the Creed does not say the Son is “God of Himself” (autotheos), it says He is “God of God.” This is problematic for Sean, as he denied any kind of intra-Trinitarian“from/to relationship.” (link)

6. Sean cannot even seem to define “eternal generation” or “eternal procession,” not surprising since Sean affirms the aseity of the Son. At most, then, he must think the second person derives His personal property from the Father, not His person from the Father. But then it would be more appropriate to refer to the Son as eternally adopted. Further, this neo-Adoptionism appears to make the relationships among the persons arbitrary, since there is no reason to suppose that the personal properties could not have been reversed. (link)

7. Three Trinitarians minds and three Trinitarian wills are necessary to preserve the distinct thoughts each possesses and roles each has in the covenant of redemption and economy of salvation. In this case, the idea the persons are united numerically can’t be true (link). But if Sean rejects numeric unity and the subordination of the Son and Spirit, then just as there is one definition of human but multiple humans, so there must, on Sean's view, be one definition of God but multiple Gods. (link)

These are just several of the relevant points of Scripture and logic I have mentioned in the course of our blog discussion, all of which he has had ample time to address. I have also received no reply to my post showing a difference between myself and Samuel Clarke – I believe the Son and Spirit to exist necessarily – which has, thus far, been critical to Sean’s accusation that I am a Unitarian. Nor has he responded to my post showing that Alexander of Alexandria who, of all things, was the primary opponent of Arius, thought that the Son is subordinate to the Father. He has, however, admitted on facebook that Novatian constitutes precedent for our view. But I suppose these early church fathers were just a bunch of Arians and Unitarians? Right.

Speaking of curious views of history, Sean apparently thinks I should acknowledge my conscience to be bound to the Athanasian Creed. So much for Scripturalism and sola scriptura. If he doesn’t think it to be infallible, then why should I really care what Sproul thinks about it? On that subject, though, I would note that Sproul doesn’t make a normative or universal statement. Rather, Sean leaves it to the reader to connect the dots: Ryan rejects the Athanasian Creed, so Ryan is obviously arrogant and obviously wrong.

But even assuming Sean’s tacit denial of the formal principle of the Reformation, it’s preposterous that Sean would presume to moralize on Trinitarianism in church history when he can’t even consistently affirm the Nicene Creed. If I’m culpable for denying a non-ecumenical creed not even written by the person after whom it was named, how much more is Sean culpable for denying the Nicene Creed? He objects that I misunderstand the Nicene Creed. But he has yet to make good on that objection.

Meanwhile, I have consistently explained why it is that I am able to affirm the co-equality or co-essentiality of the Son and Spirit with the Father in terms of their unity in distinctly yet univocally possessing the same attributes, a fact which renders Sean’s insinuations to the contrary a lie and his citations of Athanasius irrelevant. It is his burden of proof to show that being self-existent and autotheos are divine attributes. It is his burden of proof to harmonize his idea with the questions and arguments he has so far been unable to answer.

Furthermore, I would point out that Sean has admitted his view of the Incarnation is not compatible with Chalcedonian Christology (link). This isn’t even a question of logical inference: Sean openly denies that Chalcedon is true. But then I too can cite modern theologians who think this council is, as Sean puts it, “affirmed by virtually every historic Protestant church,” leaving it to the reader to follow my own trail of bread crumbs. In fact, I don’t need to look any further than Nick Needham, a cohort of R.C. Sproul (link):
It’s hard enough to pronounce “Chalcedon.” Getting to grips with its theology can be even more daunting. But the effort will be very richly rewarded. For the past 1,500 years, right up to the present day, virtually all orthodox Christian theologians have defined their “orthodoxy” with reference to the Council of Chalcedon. That certainly includes the Reformed tradition. We may not think that the early ecumenical councils were infallible. But we have generally held that they were gloriously right in what they affirmed, and that Christians who take the church and its history seriously must reckon with these great councils as providential landmarks in the unfolding life story of God’s people.
For good measure, here is what R.C. Sproul says (link):
The fifth century saw the convening of perhaps the most important christological council in all of church history at Chalcedon in 451. Here orthodox Christianity had to fight a battle on two fronts. On the one hand was the opposition to the orthodox view of the nature of Christ in His incarnation by Eutyches. Eutyches was a monophysite — he declared that Jesus had only one nature. This nature was called a single “theanthropic nature,” meaning a divinely human nature or a humanly divine nature. This position, saying that Christ had one nature (Greek: monophysis), obscured both the real deity and the real humanity that were united in the incarnation of Christ. 
On the other side of the debate, the Nestorians argued that if Jesus had two natures, He had to have had two persons as well, so they separated the two natures of Christ into two persons. Over against both heresies, Chalcedon gave its famous formula by which it declared that Christ is truly God and truly man, with the natures perfectly united in such a way that they are not confused — the natures are without mixture, confusion, division, or separation; each nature retains its own attributes. This was a watershed council because it set the boundaries or parameters of christological speculation. The two natures were not to be merged or confused; the human nature, for example, would not be absorbed or swallowed up in the divine nature and vice versa. At the same time, the two natures were not to be separated so as to lose their unity in the one person. 
Throughout history since Chalcedon, the church in virtually every generation has had to face the tendencies of either confusing the two natures or dividing or separating the two natures. Orthodoxy in the fifth century declared that the natures must be distinguished yet never separated. They must be distinguished and never be co-mingled.
Now, does any of this bother Sean? Clearly not. And why should it? He has elsewhere lamented that “It’s a shame more Protestants don’t think like Calvin when it comes to the so-called “ecumenical” Councils” (link). Little did Sean know that he would become one of those Protestants. Clearly there is a double standard at play, and the reason is that Sean is not able to address the above arguments.

Really, this whole discussion of historical theology is a distraction. I don’t mind exposing Sean’s farcical view of church history, and I am in the process of doing just that, but the idea that two Scripturalists should be arguing about anything other than Scripture or that which can necessarily be inferred from it in a conversation about so serious a topic as the Trinity is ludicrous. Or maybe Sean wants to take a crack at naming all of the Scripturalists in the last millennium too. Anyway, moving on...
Instead the Son and Spirit derive their existence from the Father who then delegates his authority to them.  Neither the Son nor the Spirit are “autotheos” or God in themselves.  Their divinity is derived and contingent on the Father’s essential and supreme divinity.  According to Hedrich and Shelton only the Father can be called God in the fullest sense and the Son and Spirit are merely his messengers or servants both of whom act as pointers or emissaries leading people to the “one true God the Father.”  Ryan calls Jesus Christ a “vicegerent,” which means that he is God’s deputy who exercises power delegated to him by the Father and something He lacks intrinsically and in himself.  Shelton refers to Jesus as an “icon” who is not strictly speaking God incarnate (which in his warped mind would mean the Father is incarnate), but rather is  “the representative of God on earth who has de jure authority over all men.”   The important thing to keep in mind is that when these men say “God” they mean “the Father.”
Autotheos means God-of-Himself, not God-in-Himself. Sean would like it if I let this slip by without notice, because then he would indeed have good reason to say I think the Son lacks intrinsic power. But that isn’t the case, and he knows it. The Son is divine in Himself – and thus He is God in one sense – but not of Himself – and thus He is not God in a separate sense. Similarly, I am a man in myself, but I am not a man of myself. Sean conflated “in” with “of” in our facebook discussion and, when corrected, withdrew it. It appears he has forgotten this miscue.

The Son indeed has power and authority, but it is power and authority received from the Father (Matthew 28:18, John 17:2). Sean may reply that these are references to economic activity, as if it could ever have been said that the Father received power from the Son. Let’s take a look at these Scriptures:

John 10:17-18 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.

John 12:49-50 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.

John 14:30-31 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.

John 15:10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.

Now, can we really say the Son could have refused the commandments of the Father, or is it the case the Father “has a claim,” so to speak, on Him? If obliged to obey, does not the Father have authority over the Son just as the Son has authority over us (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:3)? Or is the capacity of the Father to charge and command the Son just an arbitrary happenstance which could have been reversed? Could the Son have commanded the Father? What does Sean think? Well, maybe he’ll get around to answering these things in one of his posts.

Given this, we have reason to say that the Father is the ultimate object of worship. Sean notes a host of passages which state we ought to worship Christ. Well, no one denied that. But ironically, the context of one of the two other passages Sean cited clearly connects our worship and honor of the Son to the fact it was the Father – the head of the Son, a head without head – who placed Him at the head of creation:

John 5:22-23 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 

Next, Sean writes:
Sadly, Hedrich’s failure to honor the Son while thinking he is honoring the Father stems from a complete misreading of the Nicene fathers and Athanasius in particular. Perhaps the clearest evidence of this is the fact that all of church history, including the entirety of the Reformed tradition, stand in direct opposition to Hedrich.  Yet, this observation hardly gives this proud young man even the slightest pause.  But unlike “Athanasius contra mundum,” Hendich remains “contra Athanasius.” At the heart of Henrich’s departure from the faith lies the misplaced belief that the eternal generation of the Son necessitates the ontological and authoritative subordination of the Son to the Father, but that is precisely the  opposite of what Athanasius taught and what the Nicene creed affirmed.  For Hedrich, just as we derive out existence from our human parents, the Son as the only begotten of the Father derives his existence and divinity in a similar fashion, but that kind of one to one comparison is what the Nicene fathers wanted to avoid.  The irony is if Hedrich is correct then Athanasius would be advocating the very subordinationism he was opposing in his fight against the Arians and semi-Arians.   
Firstly, subordinationism refers to the heresy of stating the nature of the Son is unequal to that of the Father. I have not made that mistake. But his citation of Athanasius only proves that the nature of the relationship between the Father and Son is not corporeal. Who said it was? How does this prove that the generation of the Son can in no way be understood “after the manner of men”? For Athanasius also says “such as he that begets, such of necessity is the offspring” and asks, “for who hears of a son but conceives of that which is proper to the father’s essence?” (link) Likewise, in his chapter on Athanasius in The Trinity, Gordon Clark held that “Christ is the Son of God as Isaac was the son of Abraham: not a moral but a natural sonship.” I would admittedly be somewhat astonished that Sean could actually disagree with Clark. Interestingly, from that same work Sean quoted, we read Athanasius affirms the subordination of the Son (link):
(4.) Nor again, in saying that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is one only God, the only Ingenerate, do we therefore deny that Christ also is God before ages: as the disciples of Paul of Samosata, who say that after the incarnation He was by advance made God, from being made by nature a mere man. For we acknowledge, that though He be subordinate to His Father and God, yet, being before ages begotten of God, He is God perfect according to nature and true, and not first man and then God, but first God and then becoming man for us, and never having been deprived of being.
One can search high and low, but the context does not reference any economic activity. It is clear Athanasius is talking about the ontological Trinity. So will Sean say Athanasius a subordinationist? No. How do I know this? Because I’ve already pointed Sean to this passage in Athanasius, all he had to say in reply was: “You do have a problem as you no understanding of Athanasius and you read the economic Trinity back into the immanent Trinity. You're embarrassing yourself.” He almost convinced me with that one...

In fact, I see that he is recycling several Athanasian quotes from our facebook discussion, each of which only serves to show either he has forgotten the refutation or has hoped that I would. He says:
According to Athanasius, while the eternal generation of the Son is intended to individuate the Persons of the Godhead, it is the Godhead considered as “the eternal triad” that is the “monarche” or source of the essential divinity of the Persons and not the Father exclusively. Athanasius argues there is “a Holy Trinity but one Godhead and one beginning [arche], and that the Son is co-essential with the Father … while the Holy Spirit [is] proper to and inseparable from the essence of the Father and the Son.”
But that there is one genus “Godhead” and one “beginning” does not mean the Godhead is the arche. Again, I will cite for Sean now what I cited then (link):
Believing then in the All-perfect Triad, the most Holy, that is, in the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and calling the Father God, and the Son God, yet we confess in them, not two Gods, but one dignity of Godhead, and one exact harmony of dominion, the Father alone being Head over the whole universe wholly, and over the Son Himself, and the Son subordinated to the Father; but, excepting Him, ruling over all things after Him which through Himself have come to be, and granting the grace of the Holy Ghost unsparingly to the saints at the Father’s will. For that such is the account of the Divine Monarchy towards Christ, the sacred oracles have delivered to us.
The Divine Monarch is the Father, not the Godhead. Sean didn’t even bother to reply to this quote in our facebook discussion. His cherry-picking of Athanasius doesn’t imply his inferences, and any careful reader will see this.

Next, Sean highlights Giles as saying all subordinationists describe the relationship between the Son and Father is asymmetrical. Okay. So? Sean’s arguments leave much to be desired. If his conclusion is that all those who describe the relationship between the Son and Father as asymmetrical are subordinationists, that’s an obvious fallacy, but what else could have been the point of the quote?

Sean then cites my interpretation of Genesis 1:26 in which I state that I believed the Father to be referring to the heavenly court. This reason is given by Bruce Waltke: “the other four uses of the plural pronoun with reference to God ([Gen.] 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8) do not seem to refer to the Trinity” (Genesis: A Commentary, pg. 64). Isaiah 6:2-7, for instance, pertain to the actions of seraphim. Are seraphim divine? No. Wallace writes (link):
In 2 Sam 24:14 David uses the plural as representative of all Israel, and in Isa 6:8 the Lord speaks on behalf of his heavenly court. In its ancient Israelite context the plural is most naturally understood as referring to God and his heavenly court (see 1 Kgs 22:19-22; Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; Isa 6:1-8). (The most well-known members of this court are God’s messengers, or angels. In Gen 3:5 the serpent may refer to this group as “gods/divine beings.” See the note on the word “evil” in 3:5.) If this is the case, God invites the heavenly court to participate in the creation of humankind (perhaps in the role of offering praise, see Job 38:7), but he himself is the one who does the actual creative work (v. 27). Of course, this view does assume that the members of the heavenly court possess the divine “image” in some way. Since the image is closely associated with rulership, perhaps they share the divine image in that they, together with God and under his royal authority, are the executive authority over the world.
Does Sean’s view of the Trinity really hang on one Old Testament passage? What would it prove if his interpretation were correct? I think focusing on minutiae is Sean’s way of avoiding the more important questions while appearing to save face. He does, however, take this opportunity to conflate existing “in” oneself to existing “of” oneself, a notion Athanasius himself puts to rest here:
Christ is the Word of God. Did He then subsist by Himself, and subsisting, has He become joined to the Father, or did God make Him or call Him His Word? If the former, I mean if He subsisted by Himself and is God, then there are two Beginnings; and moreover, as is plain, He is not the Father’s own, as being not of the Father, but of Himself. But if on the contrary He be made externally, then is He a creature. It remains then to say that He is from God Himself; but if so, that which is from another is one thing, and that from which it is, is a second; according to this then there are two. But if they be not two, but the names belong to the same, cause and effect will be the same, and begotten and begetting, which has been shewn absurd in the instance of Sabellius. But if He be from Him, yet not another, He will be both begetting and not begetting; begetting because He produces from Himself, and not begetting, because it is nothing other than Himself. But if so, the same is called Father and Son notionally. But if it be unseemly so to say, Father and Son must be two; and they are one, because the Son is not from without, but begotten of God. But if any one shrinks from saying ‘Offspring,’ and only says that the Word exists with God, let such a one fear lest, shrinking from what is said in Scripture, he fall into absurdity, making God a being of double nature. For not granting that the Word is from the Monad, but simply as if He were joined to the Father, he introduces a twofold essence, and neither of them Father of the other. And the same of Power. And we may see this more clearly, if we consider it with reference to the Father; for there is One Father, and not two, but from that One the Son. As then there are not two Fathers, but One, so not two Beginnings, but One, and from that One the Son essential.
Athanasius rejects that the Word “subsisted by Himself” or “of Himself” – so much for autotheos or aseity – as such implies “two Beginnings” rather than one [God]. Yes, Athanasius did say, and correctly so, that “what is said of the Father, is said in Scripture of the Son also, all but His being called Father,” but what does it mean to be the Father? Until Sean can explain the doctrine of eternal generation, he has no answer. And even if he were to to do so, it appears he would disagree with Athanasius, the Nicene Creed, etc.

Sean wraps up his post by evading yet another question – does he hold to generic unity? – begging another – how is my explanation of generic and numeric unity faulty? – and relying on well-poisoning to prejudice his readers. I expect better in the future.


Andrew L. Davis said...

Hello, I appreciate your article and the many good points you make in it. While perhaps this discussion is outdated enough that this is a moot point, I wanted to alert you to the fact that you quote the Macrostich a couple of times as Athanasius's own words, when the source you cite is simply a work by Athanasius wherein he quotes the Macrostich at length.

I notice that this blog has been inactive for some time, but if you do see this, I would be curious if you still hold the trinitarian views you express in this post?

In Christ,

Andrew Davis

Ryan said...

Thank you for the comment and pointing out my mistake.

As for whether I hold the same views, I'm at least more reserved in their expression than formerly. In another post, I stated a few tenets I believe Trinitarians generally hold to (excepting, perhaps, that each person has a distinct will):


1. Monotheism: there is one God.
2. The Father is God, the Son (Jesus) is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
3. The Father is distinct from the Son, and both are distinct from the Spirit.
4. The Father, Son, and Spirit each univocally though distinctly possess divine attributes: each is omniscient, eternal, good, etc. Each possesses a mind and a will. On the other hand, they are individuated or distinguished from one another by properties: for instance, only the "first person" is the Father, only the "second person" is the Son, and only the "third person" is the Spirit. They have different thoughts (e.g. "I am the Father") and make different choices with their different wills (e.g. "I, the Son, will to die"), though all of these variances are with the same purposes and ends in mind, of course.


I still agree with all of this. The reservation I now have in committing to much further is in wanting to fit interpretations or models to revealed facts, not the other way around. So I am still puzzling things out. If pressed, I probably generally lean towards my formerly expressed views, with perhaps some differences, but in either case, I would try not to come off as dogmatic about it.

Andrew L. Davis said...

Well I have appreciated many of the things you've had to say. There aren't too many classical trinitarians around these days Are you still committed to grounding monotheism in the Father being the one God? I notice that isn't specified in the summary above.

I run a site on the topic, that would be of interest to you:

In Christ,

Andrew Davis

Ryan said...

That would be one of the areas I would say I am trying not to be as dogmatic about until and unless I could see that more explicitly in Scripture.

It is factual that Scripture refers to the Father to as the one and only God. But Scripture also refers to Jesus as our one and only Lord (1 Corinthians 8:6; Jude 4). If we would not say the Father is not Lord on the basis of those passages, on what revealed grounds would we say Jesus is not God? Is "Lord" equivocal in these cases as "God" is equivocal, each depending on its own context?

Perhaps. But I need to think about that and logical coherence a bit more before telling anyone else they are wrong, although indeed they might be and I do, as I said, still have some general leanings toward my previously stated positions, the one you mention included.

Andrew L. Davis said...

Well, being cautious is admirable.

One thought on 1 Cor 8:6 is that "one God" and "one Lord" could be taken as being used in a very specific sense there; "one God" referring to the one Supreme Authority over all, and supreme uncaused Cause of all, while "one Lord" refers to the one subordinate authority over all, subordinated only to His God and Father, and one subordinate cause of all, as the Father created all things through Him. Certainly, I think both the Father and Son are both "God" and "Lord". But given the context of pagan supreme/subordinate deities referenced in that chapter, viewing it in parallel to that seems justified.

That is the sense in which I would generally understand the Father to be the "one God", the Son still being "God" on account of both His headship over creation and divine nature.

Anyways... probably all arguments you're familiar with already.

In Christ,

Andrew Davis