Tag Archives | Trinity

One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life

One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for LifeI’m excited to point out a new book from Crossway that tackles some of the issues facing the doctrine of the Trinity today: One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life. I had the privilege of contributing a chapter with my good friend Andy Naselli. Our chapter, “An Examination of Recent Arguments against Eternal Hierarchy in the Trinity” (tentative title), evaluates some of the philosophical arguments against the notion of hierarchy in the immanent Trinity and finds them unpersuasive.

Here’s the book’s description:

How do the three persons of the Trinity relate to each other? Evangelicals continue to debate this complex concept—especially its implications for our understanding of men and women’s roles in both the home and the church. Offering a comprehensive exposition of the complementarian perspective, this book combines the insights of fifteen prominent evangelical scholars1 who examine the issue from exegetical, theological, historical, and pastoral perspectives. The contributors to this volume have written one of the most substantive treatises to date, defending the eternal submission of the Son and Spirit to the Father with a wide array of persuasive evidences.

Bruce Ware and John Starke edited the volume, and eleven others—Wayne Grudem, Jim Hamilton, Scott Oliphint, Michael Haykin, Jeffrey Robinson, Robert Letham, Michael Ovey, Andy Naselli, Chris Cowan, Kyle Claunch, and I—contributed chapters.

It’s projected to be released in April of 2015, but it’s available for pre-order now.

Since the doctrine of the Trinity is one of my favorite areas of study, I’m looking forward to this book’s release and reading the chapters from the other contributors. If you get a chance to read it, I’d love to hear your feedback on our chapter.

If this topic interests you, you may want to check out some of my previous blog posts related to hierarchy in the Trinity:2

  1. Ware–Grudem vs. McCall–Yandell on the Trinity
  2. My Question for Dr. Yandell
  3. Does Eternal Subordination Entail a Denial of Homoousion?
  4. Does the McCall–Yandell Argument Work? Feinberg Says No
  5. The Failed Strategy of Trinity and Subordinationism
  6. Essential Equality and Functional Subordination: A Complementarian Novelty?
  7. Hierarchy Does Not Necessitate Opposition
  8. Warfield on Eternal Subordination in the Trinity
  9. Barth on the Son’s Subordination to the Father
  10. Gunton on Taxis in the Trinity
  11. John Frame on 1 Corinthians 15:28 and Eternal Subordination
  12. Moulton on 1 Corinthians 15:28
  13. The Father = The Trinity

For more on the Trinity, see also these posts:

  1. The Doctrine of the Trinity in Five Theses
  2. How Do the Father, Son, and Spirit Differ?
  3. Are the Father, Son, and Spirit Equally Persons?
  4. Is the Trinity One ‘What’ and Three ‘Who’s’?
  5. Warfield, Vos, and Van Til: Is God One Person?
  6. Are You a Practical Modalist?
  7. Review of Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel by Andreas J. Köstenberger and Scott R. Swain
  8. To Him Be Glory Forever
  9. Intratrinitarian Reconciliation?

Footnotes

  1. I count only thirteen. I’m not sure who numbers fourteen and fifteen are. And “prominent evangelical scholars” is probably an overstatement, especially since it would seem to include me.
  2. You may also want to check out a similar work published by Wipf and Stock a couple of years ago called The New Evangelical Subordinationism? Perspectives on the Equality of God the Father and God the Son. It includes essays from both sides of the debate. Unfortunately, it’s expensive.
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Warfield, Vos, and Van Til: Is God One Person?

Shield of the TrinityOrthodox trinitarianism typically refers to God in terms of three persons or subsistences (personas, subsistentia, or ὑποστάσιες) and one essence or substance (essentiasubstantia, or οὐσία). But is there a sense in which God is one person? To put it another way, is God’s oneness personal?

Here’s how three Princeton theologians addressed this topic.

B. B. Warfield (1851–1921)

The elements in the doctrine of God which above all others needed emphasis in Old Testament times were naturally His unity and His personality. The great thing to be taught the ancient people of God was that the God of all the earth is one person. Over against the varying idolatries about them, this was the truth of truths for which Israel was primarily to stand; and not until this great truth was ineffaceably stamped upon their souls could the personal distinctions in the Triune-God be safely made known to them.

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, “The Spirit of God in the Old Testament,” chapter 3 of Biblical Doctrines, vol. 2 of The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield (New York: Oxford University Press, 1932), 127 (emphasis added).

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The Doctrine of the Trinity in Five Theses

Shield of the TrinityHere’s how Geerhardus Vos articulates the core affirmations of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity:

  1. There is only one divine being. Scripture expresses itself decisively against all polytheism (Deut 6:4; Isa 44:6; Jas 2:19).
  2. In this one God are three modes of existence, which we refer to by the word “person” and which are, each one, this only true God. In Scripture these three persons are called, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  3. These three persons, although together the one true God, are nevertheless distinguished from each other insofar as they assume objective relations toward each other, address each other, love each other, and can interact with each other.
  4. Although these three persons possess one and the same divine substance, Scripture nevertheless teaches us that, concerning their personal existence, the Father is the first, the Son the second, and the Holy Spirit the third, that the Son is of the Father, the Spirit of the Father and the Son. Further, their workings outwardly reflect this order of personal existence, since the Father works through the Son, and the Father and Son work through the Spirit. There is, therefore, subordination as to personal manner of existence and manner of working, but no subordination regarding possession of the one divine substance.
  5. The divine substance is not divided among the three persons as if each possesses one-third. Neither is it a new substance beside the three persons. Finally, neither is it an abstraction of our thinking in a nominalistic sense. But in a manner for which all further analogy is lacking, each of these persons possesses the entire divine substance.

Geerhardus Vos, “The Trinity,” chapter 3 of Theology Proper, vol. 1 of Reformed Dogmatics, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, trans. Annemie Godbehere (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013), 38–39.

By the way, today is Vos’s 151st birthday. In honor, Logos Bible Software just posted a 14-volume collection of Vos’s works on Pre-Pub. They’re also working on the first ever English translation of Vos’s Reformed Dogmatics, from which the above quotation comes.

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Warfield on Eternal Subordination in the Trinity

Those who reject the notion of hierarchy in the imminent Trinity often point to B. B. Warfield as a supporter of their position. In his article in ISBE on the Trinity,1 Warfield discusses at length his reservations about reading what we see in the economic Trinity back into the immanent Trinity.

19. The Implications of “Son” and “Spirit”

. . . To the fact of the Trinity—to the fact, that is, that in the unity of the Godhead there subsist three Persons, each of whom has his particular part in the working out of salvation—the New Testament testimony is clear, consistent, pervasive and conclusive. There is included in this testimony constant and decisive witness to the complete and undiminished Deity of each of these Persons; no language is too exalted to apply to each of them in turn in the effort to give expression to the writer’s sense of His Deity: the name that is given to each is fully understood to be “the name that is above every name.” When we attempt to press the inquiry behind the broad fact, however, with a view to ascertaining exactly how the New Testament writers conceive the three Persons to be related, the one to the other, we meet with great difficulties. Nothing could seem more natural, for example, than to assume that the mutual relations of the Persons of the Trinity are revealed in the designations, “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” which are given them by Our Lord in the solemn formula of Mt. 28:19. Our confidence in this assumption is somewhat shaken, however, when we observe, as we have just observed, that these designations are not carefully preserved in their allusions to the Trinity by the writers of the New Testament at large, but are characteristic only of Our Lord’s allusions and those of John, whose modes of speech in general very closely resemble those of Our Lord. Our confidence is still further shaken when we observe that the implications with respect to the mutual relations of the Trinitarian Persons, which are ordinarily derived from these designations, do not so certainly lie in them as is commonly supposed.

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Footnotes

  1. Trinity,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, edited by James Orr (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), 5:3,012–22.
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Did the Incarnation Improve God?

Earlier this week, the Gospel Coalition blog featured a post on the Incarnation and God’s immutability, which caught my attention. An individual asked,

How do we hold together the idea that God doesn’t change with what happened at the incarnation and resurrection—where Jesus was united to a human nature and took on an earthly body and ultimately a resurrection body? It’s hard to understand that God[’s] taking on a human nature and all that he experienced in the flesh is not [a] fundamental change for him.

James Anderson, Assistant Professor of Theology and Philosophy at RTS in Charlotte, blogger, and Van Tillian, responded with a several considerations that help to lessen, though not remove, the tension.

  1. “[T]he biblical statements about God[’s] not changing needn’t be taken in a way that rules out change in any sense.”
  2. One possibility is that, as William Lane Craig argues, “God is timeless apart from a creation but temporal with a creation.”
  3. “An alternative solution is to deny that God can experience intrinsic change while recognizing that God appears to change from the temporal standpoint of his creatures.”
  4. “[W]e can make a distinction between divine causes and divine effects. God’s actions take effect in time (and space) but God acts from timeless eternity.”
  5. “God the Son is timeless and unchangeable with respect to his divine nature but temporal and changeable with respect to his human nature.”
  6. “Perhaps the best solution here is to say that talk of ‘becoming’ human is really a loose way of speaking, one conditioned by our temporal perspective, and isn’t to be taken in the most literal sense.”
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How Do the Father, Son, and Spirit Differ?

The Systematic Theology of John Brown of HaddingtonIn recent debates about the Trinity—particularly the ones that stem from the gender debate—the question of the differences among the persons of the Trinity comes to the forefront. How do the Father, Son, and Spirit differ from each other?

John Brown of Haddington answers this way:1

  1. By their names of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Mt 28:19; 2 Co 8:14; Mt 3:16–17; 1 Jn 5:7; Jn 14:16–17.
  2. By their order of subsistence; the Father the first; the Son the second; and the Holy Ghost the third, 1 Jn 5:7; Mt 28:19. But to mark their equality, they are sometimes mentioned in a different order, 2 Co 8:14; Re 1:4–5; 1 Th 3:5.
  3. By their different order of operation. The Father acts from himself through the Son and by the Spirit. The Son acts from the Father and by the Spirit: And the Spirit acts from both the Father and the Son, Jn 2:16; 1:1–3; 5:17–19; 15:26; 14:26; 16:7.
  4. By their different stations, which, in a delightful correspondence with their natural order of subsistence, they have voluntarily assumed in the work of our redemption:—the Father as the Creditor, Judge Master, and Rewarder;—the Son as the Mediator, Surety, Servant, Pannel, &c.;—and the Holy Ghost as the Furnisher, Assistant, and Rewarder of the Mediator, and the Applier of the redemption purchased by him, Zech 3:8; 8:7; Is 42:1, 6–7; 49:1–9; 53:2–12, Jn 16:8–15; Eph 1:17–18; 3:16–19; 4:30; Ezek 36:27.
  5. And chiefly by their personal properties.—The Father is neither begotten by, nor preceeds from any other person, but, being first in order, he begets the Son, and hath the Holy Ghost proceeding from him. The Son is begotten by the Father, and hath the Holy Ghost proceeding form him. The Holy Ghost neither begets, nor is begotten, but proceeds from both the Father and the Son, John 1:14, 18; 3:16; 14:26; Ga 4:4–6; 1 Pe 1:11.

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Footnotes

  1. The Systematic Theology of John Brown of Haddington (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2002), 142. First published in 1782 as A Compendious View of Natural and Revealed Religion. I updated the format of the Bible references to make them more readable and added bold to the five italicized terms.
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Are the Father, Son, and Spirit Equally Persons?

Here’s Karl Barth’s answer:

. . . even if the Father and the Son might be called “person” (in the modern sense of the term), the Holy Spirit could not possibly be regarded as the third “person.” In a particularly clear way the Holy Spirit is what the Father and the Son also are. He is not a third spiritual Subject, a third I, a third Lord side by side with two others. He is a third mode of being of the one divine Subject or Lord.

. . .

He is the common element, or, better, the fellowship, the act of communion, of the Father and the Son. He is the act in which the Father is the Father of the Son or the Speaker of the Word and the Son is the Son of the Father or the Word of the Speaker. (CD I,1, 469)

This sounds on the surface like a denial of full trinitarianism (and I am a little uncomfortable with it), but it shares much in common with the views of Augustine and Jonathan Edwards, both of whom tended to talk about the Spirit in ways that seem less than fully personal.

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Memorial Day vs. Trinity Sunday

Today was a special day in many churches around the world. Some churches in the US anticipated Memorial Day and remembered those who have fought to defend our nation’s freedoms. Others celebrated Trinity Sunday and reflected on the Christian doctrine of the Trinity—God’s being both one and three. Some may have done both; others neither. I’m curious what your church did.

Take the poll.

[poll id="5"]

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A Case of Major Plagiarism

The weekend before Christmas I was doing some reading and research on the Trinity (which is what I spend most of my weekends doing), and I stumbled across something in a journal article that sounded very much like something I had read in a systematic theology book. So I opened the book to compare, and sure enough it was verbatim (the only difference being a single word missing the italics from the original source).

So I turned back to the article expecting to see that the author was quoting a large portion from the theology book and that I was simply reading somewhere in the middle of the quote, but I saw no quotation marks and no mention of the author’s work. Perplexed I started comparing further, wondering if perhaps this was just a very long extended quotation. To my shock I discovered the the author of the journal article had reproduced without quotation marks nearly verbatim (somewhere between 95% and 99% identical content) the entirety of his 24-page article from the other individual’s theology book—almost a complete copy and paste with just a handful of very minor cosmetic changes. The only credit he gave to the author of the content was a mention in his first footnote where he listed a few sources on the doctrine of the Trinity. At the end of the footnote, he mentioned his particular indebtedness to the author whose content he plagiarized. (Most readers have no idea how indebted he really was!)

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Two New Theology Books Now on My Wishlist

Concise Reformed DogmaticsP&R just published J. van Genderen & W. H. Velema’s Concise Reformed Dogmatics, which the publisher describes as “a crystallization of the best confessionally Reformed Dutch thought in a single, manageable English-language volume.” The translation is the merger of Gerrit Bilkes’s and Ed M. van der Maas’s separate English translations of the original 1992 Dutch edition, Beknopte Gereformeerde dogmatiek.

It is the product of a multistep process of comparing the two translations and combining their strengths. With an eye for clarity and theological integrity, a team of readers—including W. H. Velema, the lone surviving author, together with Lawrence W. Bilkes and Gerald M. Bilkes—checked the entire work.

One might be tempted to question if this nearly 1,000-page tome rightly bears the descriptor concise. Compared to many systematic theology books, 1,000 pages is by no means brief, but held to the standard of other Dutch works like those of Bavinck (3,024 pp.), Kuyper (3,486 pp.), and Vos (≈1,900 pp.), it is definitely on the smaller side.

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