The Trinitarian Debate: Some Reflections and Cautions

It is not my intention to pass any comment on the substantive issue of God the Son's eternal subordination, or otherwise, to his Father. I do, however, wish to make three comments

“It should be a non-negotiable rule, a canon of Christian discourse if you like, that if a brother has a concern about another brother’s theology, he should first speak with him personally and certainly out of the public gaze. There may come a time when it will be necessary to make the concern public, but that should be a last resort not a first strike.”

 

First a confession, I rarely read blogs–especially Christian ones. My reason is simple; blogs are no kind of forum for engaging in thoughtful, reflective, analytical and measured theological discourse. No doubt some do it wisely, even brilliantly; most do it carelessly, a-historically and ineptly. However, I have made an exception with the explosion of blog comments and rejoinders relating to the question of eternal subordination. It is not my intention to pass any comment on the substantive issue of God the Son’s eternal subordination, or otherwise, to his Father. I do, however, wish to make three, hopefully helpful comments.

First, it should be a non-negotiable rule, a canon of Christian discourse if you like, that if a brother has a concern about another brother’s theology, he should first speak with him personally and certainly out of the public gaze. There may come a time when it will be necessary to make the concern public, but that should be a last resort not a first strike. It is only too easy with social media to let our fingers and not our heads rule our contributions to theological discussion. Truth matters and matters deeply. But it is only by “speaking the truth in love” (αληθευοντες δε εν αγαπη) that we grow up into Christ the head.

In no sense am I denigrating passionate debate or seeking to downgrade the importance of doctrinal accuracy. I am, however, pleading for theological debate between brothers that is courteous without being anodyne, passionate without being derogatory, Catholic spirited without being partisan.

Second, doctrines as weighty and freighted with the theological reflections of two thousand years of church history as eternal subordination is, should not be subject to proof texting from the Church Fathers or the magisterial Reformers. It is the easiest thing to cull church history and find quotes from eminent theologians that support your particular conviction. But theology has never been done in an historical vacuum and it is imperative that the historical contexts of theological debates and doctrinal formulations be properly understood–Nicea and Chalcedon being cases in point–before quotations are extrapolated and used to defend one’s position. I have always found it fascinating that the Chalcedonian formulation revolves around four negative adverbs (ἀσυγχύτως ἀτρέπτως ἀδιαιρετως and ἀχωρίστως). The formulators were apparently more comfortable saying what was not true of the hypostatic union than they were saying what actually was true of the union. I am not saying that only the Academy’s experts should engage in these profound discussions and that the rest of us should view theology as a spectator sport. I am saying that we need to be far more knowledgable than most of us are before we bless the church with our insights and pronouncements.

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