The Ecumenical Consequences Of The Peace

The recent debate on the Trinity among conservative Protestants has revealed that conservative Protestantism is fundamentally divided on the identity of God.

But what does seem clear to me is that confessional Protestants need to think long and hard about their connections to evangelicalism, broadly conceived. There are other, better options out there. For example, Reformed catholicity, of the kind being sketched out by Scott Swain and Michael Allen, seems more thoughtful, to have more theological and historical integrity, and to suggest potentially more fruitful lines of ecclesiastical engagement, than our current big-tent evangelicalism does.

 

Many readers of this blog will be blissfully unaware of a storm that erupted recently among conservative Protestants over the doctrine of the Trinity. For those interested in the details, Christianity Today offers a good account of the issues here. As the dust now settles, it is clear that a number of influential evangelical theologians have for decades been advocating a view of the Trinity that radically subordinates the Son to the Father in eternity and often rejects the idea of eternal generation. They have used this revised doctrine of God to argue for the subordination of women to men in the present, in a manner that has at times had terrible pastoral consequences.

What this recent debate has revealed is that conservative Protestantism is fundamentally divided on the identity of God. Some conservative Protestants hold to the ecumenical doctrine of the Trinity as expressed in the Creed of 381; others wish to use Nicene rhetoric but actually hold positions that run counter to that Creed. Reactions to this revelation have varied—from serious and constructive engagement to bewilderment that anyone would regard a complicated doctrine like the Trinity as being of any importance. So what are the implications?

It seems clear now that the evangelical wing of conservative Protestantism has been built on a theological mirage. Typically, evangelicalism focuses on Biblicism and salvation as two of its major foundations and regards these as cutting across denominational boundaries, pointing to a deeper unity. But now it is obvious that, whatever agreement there might be on these issues, a more fundamental breach exists over the very identity of God. This in turn points to a host of other implicit disagreements over, e.g., hermeneutics, the role of creeds and confessions, the importance and significance of history, and the usefulness of classical theological categories.

The consequence of the past failure to note this basic disagreement on the Trinity has been that all of these concomitant issues have been shunted to the margins of evangelical discourse. In addition, the doctrine of salvation has been detached from, and prioritized over, the doctrine of God in a way that is theologically disastrous and inconsistent with the history of orthodoxy. It has also, as pointed out by Christopher Cleveland, marginalized and even abolished the very categories the church has developed for the transmission of orthodoxy from generation to generation.

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