What then is the gentlemanly response to Dr. Ware’s assertion that the Son receives less glory in the Godhead than does the Father? How ought the gentleman pastor respond to his claim that it is inappropriate to pray to the Son since He possesses a lesser supremacy in the Godhead than does the Father? How should the gentleman theologian respond to Dr. Grudem’s contention that the Trinity is analogous to a married couple with a child?
I was interested to read a recent article by Dr. Jason Duesing of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City (my alma mater). The title of the post is “Where are the Gentleman Theologians?” The post is helpful and appropriately challenging in many ways. I appreciate his call for theologians and pastors to treat one another with charity in our disagreements. Who among us does not need to be reminded of that from time-to-time? He refers appropriately to the late Roger Nicole who was well known for his irenic spirit. I hope that we will be careful to know the difference between those issues upon which we may agree to disagree and those issues which ought to rise to the level of public opposition.
Of keen interest to me is that Dr. Duesing draws a direct line between the call to be gentlemen theologians and the current controversy over the doctrine of the Trinity (If you need to, you can catch up HERE).
Certainly there has been substantive discussion over vital issues of non-negotiable importance. Yet, there has also been a great deal of unhelpful polemics as we have seen a blurring of the distinction between healthy intra-evangelical debate and the attribution of heterodoxy. As I’ve watched and read, I have been hoping for more Gentlemen Theologians to help us know how to proceed. For one can contend in public as a gentleman without having also to condemn…
Personally, I agree with Albert Mohler that much of the citations against Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware, and also Denny Burk and Owen Strachan are nonsense, not just for what those concerned claim, but especially for how they claim it. I can’t help but wonder that if those convinced of their brother’s heterodoxy were slow to speak and sought to earn the right to criticize in private, much of the negative impact of this debate could have been avoided.
As I mentioned, I am not implying that essence of these discussions are not extremely important or not worth addressing at length. Yet, I am questioning some of the chosen polemical paths with regard to how one brother attributes heresy to another.
This is where I believe Duesing begins to err. At no point does he identify the “vital issues of non-negotiable importance.” Neither does he name any person or cite an article as evidence of his claim of “unhelpful polemics.” This is most unhelpful for it greatly limits any sort of engagement. But I am still going to try because most people will understandably assume that he is referring primarily to articles which ran on MOS. Since he provides not a single example of his claim I have to proceed upon assumption.
What is clear however is that Dr. Duesing identifies the opponents of ESS as the offenders in this debate. That is most unfortunate. I assume that he is not aware, for instance, of the mean-spirited accusations leveled against us on social media from some of the men he names in his defense. We were accused of being closet feminists pushing our agenda and even compared to satan. Certainly Duesing would not have intentionally overlooked those ungentlemanly actions.
Dr. Duesing finds us ungentlemanly who have publically critiqued the theology of ESS as espoused for years by Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware. Of course it begs the question of just what exactly is the gentlemanly response to public theological error. What ought a gentleman to do when he finds error being propagated within the church? Given that error attacks the peace and purity of the church I have typically supposed that a rather vigorous and public response is appropriate. Is that not what our Lord and his apostles modeled?
One of the weaknesses of Duesing’s critique is that he seems to assume that these issues can and should be worked out entirely in the context of personal conversations among scholars in fraternal gatherings. He does not seem to understand the history or circumstances of the current debate. The debate over the theology of Drs. Grudem and Ware has been going on for about 20 years. Addresses have been delivered at such gatherings as ETS. Entire books have been written challenging their articulation of ESS. And, yes, there have been personal conversations and correspondence on this doctrinal controversy.
If you believe that ESS is sound Christian doctrine then you will likely wonder why anyone would be so rude as to publically rebuke it. But this is not simply a matter of theological esoterica to be discussed over eggs benedict at a scholar’s conference. And the proponents of ESS have not left the doctrine in some rarely visited corner of polite academic discussion. Books and curricula advancing ESS continue to be written for laypersons. Crossway even published a children’s book by Dr. Ware promoting ESS. CBMW has been active in promoting ESS to churches for years.
So the time for pleasant breakfast conversations has been over for a long time.
[Editor’s note: One or more original URLs (links) referenced in this article are no longer valid; those links have been removed.]