A Reply to Dr. Mohler on Nicene Trinitarianism

I simply want to know the precise status of Nicene orthodoxy in the American evangelical world

Dr. Mohler mentions specifically the allegation that Drs. Grudem and Ware are not Nicene and dismisses such a claim as nonsense.  That is a bold statement, particularly given the intervention of Lewis Ayres on the issue.  But rather than appear adversarial at this point, let me close by quoting an evaluative description of the theological positions of these professors from a book co-edited by Professor Ware and thus, I would submit, neither an especially hostile witness, nor likely to be an egregious and nonsensical misrepresentation of their views.

 

I am glad to see that Dr. Albert Mohler has entered the discussion of the Trinity and Nicene orthodoxy with a firm but measured and gracious piece on his blog.

Again, though, I believe some friendly clarifications are in order by way of response, in the hope that these will help focus and shape future discussion in a productive and amicable manner.

First, the debate is really not about Nicaea 325.  It is about the Nicene Creed as agreed at Constantinople in 381.  Thus, as I (and others) have noted before, the issues of inseparable operations and eternal generation are key to understanding whether one’s position is within or without the bounds of Nicene orthodoxy.

Second, as to motivation, I cannot speak for all involved in the discussion but I myself have no desire to damage evangelicalism or to assert egalitarianism.  I simply want to know the precise status of Nicene orthodoxy in the American evangelical world – surely a reasonable question, given evangelical claims to represent historic Christianity – and, as a pastor, to counter the bad practical consequences of bad theology.  No more, no less.

Third, Dr. Mohler mentions specifically the allegation that Drs. Grudem and Ware are not Nicene and dismisses such a claim as nonsense.  That is a bold statement, particularly given the intervention of Lewis Ayres on the issue.  But rather than appear adversarial at this point, let me close by quoting an evaluative description of the theological positions of these professors from a book co-edited by Professor Ware and thus, I would submit, neither an especially hostile witness, nor likely to be an egregious and nonsensical misrepresentation of their views.  It is from the article by Kyle Klaunch in the collection of essays, One God in Three Persons, edited by John Starke and Bruce Ware (pp.88-89, the bold font emphasis is mine):

One often overlooked feature of such a proposal [on eternal submission of Son to Father as articulated by Grudem and Ware] is that this understanding of the eternal relationship between Father and Son seems to entail a commitment to three distinct wills in the immanent Trinity.  In order for the Son to submit willingly to the will of the Father, the two must possess distinct wills.  This way of understanding the immanent Trinity does run counter to the pro-Nicene tradition, as well as the medieval, Reformation, and post-Reformation Reformed traditions that grew from it.  According to traditional Trinitarian theology, the will is predicated of the one undivided essence so that there is only one divine will in the immanent Trinity.

By arguing for eternal authority and submission in the Godhead, Ware, Grudem, and others are not abandoning all traditional Trinitarian categories.  Rather, drawing on the distinction between the one divine essence and the three divine persons (a distinction that is basic to Trinitarian orthodoxy from its earliest mature expressions), they are making a conscious and informed choice to conceive of will as a property of person rather than essence.  The model of a three-willed Trinity then provides the basis for the conviction that structures of authority and submission actually serve as one of the means of differentiating the divine persons.

Carl Trueman is professor of historical theology and Paul Woolley chair of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This article is used with permission.