Assertions Are Not Arguments

Are the theological formulations of men above scrutiny simply because they are well-regarded theologians in some circles?

Eternal Functional Submission (EFS) proposes a hierarchical ordering of the persons of the Trinity, and thereby teaches a doctrine of the eternal distinction of the persons that runs counter to biblical and historic orthodoxy as enshrined in the Reformed confessions. In addition to the problems this creates for the simplicity of the divine essence and the unity of the divine will, EFS leaves us with a Son that is, in his personal relation to the Father, of a different degree or rank. It may not be Arian, but it is, by any other name, ontological subordination. Is that an assertion? No. It is a conclusion based upon premises.

 

An assertion is not an argument. Obvious, right? Sadly, much of the current internet imbroglio over the doctrine of the Trinity and the novel doctrine of the eternal functional subordination of the Son (henceforth EFS, and oh yes it is novel!) belies the obviousness of this basic distinction.

I realize this is a broad generalization, but let’s be honest: the battle lines have been drawn largely on twitter, a medium that is necessarily incapable of providing the space requisite for substantial analysis and argumentation. The medium is the message; and this medium provides the platform for a lot of messengers, many of them ready to assert rather than analyze and argue (biblically, theologically, and logically, of course). There is plenty of arguing; much less argumentation. But I digress.

One of the real tragedies of this debate is that both the twitterverse and the blogosphere (does anyone still call it that?) are rife with this category mistake. Witness the Southern Baptist elite, Russell Moore and Albert Mohler. Both men in the course of the last few weeks – Moore on Twitter and Mohler on his blog – have asserted that the orthodoxy of two main proponents of EFS, Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware, ought not to be in doubt, but without so much as a word of substantial proof or demonstration.

Moore tweeted on June 20 that while he didn’t agree with EFS,

I actually don’t agree with EFS Trinitarianism. But the idea that Bruce Ware or Wayne Grudem aren’t orthodox is absurd, irresponsible.

His justification came only moments later

I’m grateful for the voices that can debate these issues without keyboard pugilism.

Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem are gifts to the church and great men of God. You don’t have to agree with them on everything to see that.


“?”

I wanted to reply, simply, “huh?” Are the theological formulations of these two men – note well, men – above scrutiny simply because Moore says so, or, more charitably, because they are well-regarded theologians in some circles?

At best, this is question-begging; at worst, this is an ex cathedra pronouncement of an evangelical doyen. In any case, it’s an assertion, not an argument. The onus lies with Russell Moore to tell us why EFS does not entail a denial of creedal orthodoxy, especially when that is the argument that many have mounted against EFS.

Mohler’s essay is much longer and gives the appearance of argumentation; but for that reason is much more egregious. After reminding us briefly of the nature of heresy and especially of the Arian heresy condemned by the creedal tradition, Mohler asserts:

“Recent charges of violating the Nicene Creed made against respected evangelical theologians like Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware are not just nonsense — they are precisely the kind of nonsense that undermines orthodoxy and obscures real heresy. Their teachings do not in any way contradict the words of the Nicene Creed, and both theologians eagerly affirm it. I do not share their proposals concerning the eternal submission of the Son to the Father, but I am well aware that nothing they have taught even resembles the heresy of the Arians. To the contrary, both theologians affirm the full scope of orthodox Christianity and have proved themselves faithful teachers of the church. These charges are baseless, reckless, and unworthy of those who have made them.”

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