Video: Wayne Grudem Responds to His Critics

Last summer, a theological debate exploded across the internet on a subject many would have thought was settled all the way back at the Council of Nicaea: the Trinity.

No one was arguing for a fundamental reinterpretation of this historic Christian belief. Instead, theologians and bloggers were arguing about the nature of the relationships within the Trinity.

All parties agreed that during his time on earth, the Son of God was subordinate to the Father. But what about prior to the incarnation? Is the Son of God eternally subordinate to the Father?
Wayne Grudem says yes. This view is often used to support complementarianism, the teaching that God has designed “equal yet different” roles for men and women. However, even some complimentarians questioned Grudem’s view. Others called it heresy.

Understand the Trinity debate

Nearly a year later, the dust has largely settled, but a consensus has hardly been reached. In fact, Michael Bird believes we have witnessed a new fault line open up in the world of evangelicalism, and specifically, neo-Calvinism.

The new Mobile Ed course Perspectives on the Trinity: Eternal Generation and Subordination in Tension provides a comprehensive overview of this important debate and its broad implications. Rather than reporting on the views of others, it puts the key players center stage, allowing them to argue for their positions in a series of riveting lectures that will help you come to your own conclusions.

In this clip from the new course, Wayne Grudem defends his view against claims of heterodoxy. To get the full picture and hear responses from other scholars like Fred Sanders, Kevin Giles, Bruce Ware, and Millard Erickson, get the complete course. It’s on sale for 40% off during Mobile Ed’s Tough Topics sale.

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Comments

  1. Wayne Grudem in a style he has always had with class, responds with the Bible, not church creeds, councils or human wisdom. He agrees with creeds, councils etc… as they agree with Scripture but he has always been a “Bible Man” and that is why I love him and the ministry the Lord has entrusted him with. I watched this entire series after following the controversy last summer and I have to say – “Thank you Faithlife” for putting this together – I give it 5 stars.

    On another note, and it might just be me but I think the Lord has used this controversy to spur on Wayne Grudem – he seems to have a new fire and desire (he is battling with Parkinson’s disease) and passion in his presentation – one that I haven’t seen from him in several years.

    I praise the Lord for Wayne Grudem and I praise the Lord for Faithlife, the Lord has used them both to grow me in grace and truth and knowledge of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

    • Jeff, I agree that Dr. Grudem has, almost, a new drive and focus. To some extent it was due to the Parkinson’s diagnosis. He felt like God was using the Parkinson’s (or “God used Parkinson’s” for Calvinists) to focus his ministry. He just completed a significant ethics textbook that is now at the publisher, and is planning a significant revision of his Systematic Theology textbook. Fortunately, he has received good reports about his Parkinson’s from his physician. The disease has not advanced, and may have even regressed some.

      • Mike, this is an answer to prayer! I have been praying and asking the Lord to allow Dr. Grudem time to finish his writing projects including an update to his systematic – wahoo!!!

  2. Rod Bristol says:

    Christians should recognize the gulf between the infinite reality of God and our paltry capacity to understand. Theologians past and present seem not to pay enough respect to the mystery of God. Theological philosophy, not scripture, produced the Athanasian Creed. Too many theologians speak as if their inferences were facts, as if their conclusions were indispensable. But the Trinity idea is an arguable inference beyond what scripture necessarily implies. Take away the Creed and you have no occasion to argue many of the issues that divide Christians.

    The “Trinity” was invented to avoid the overwhelming message of the gospel: first, the impossible fact that God took on flesh; second, the terrifying challenge that other human beings should live as he lived in the flesh, doing God’s will on earth, as it is done in Heaven. Jesus, God-And-Man, is not a problem for us to analyze. Scripture does not and we should not separate God into parts, persons, modes, or anything else. Jesus demonstrated to us both the character of God and the fact that human beings can glorify God by partaking of the divine nature.

    The Son of God is God with us. When he was with us, he modeled the relationship to his “God and Father” that every Christian is invited to emulate. (e.g. Ephesians 1:3) The Spirit of God is God in us. Jesus prayed, NOT that humans would mutually indwell one another, but that God would dwell in humans and we in him, in Christ. Unity of Christians would be a visible byproduct of God’s indwelling, but that was not the thrust of his prayer: “…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:21–23)

    Respect the mystery!

    • Love this post. What church group are you associated with?

      • Rod Bristol says:

        Thanks. I have associated with the Church of Christ all my life. I suspect my views on Trinity are not accepted by most members or leaders.

    • I would be stunned if when growing up my pastor ever suggested this doctrine was “invented.” The truth that we have a Triune God (no, not the term itself) flows elegantly from scripture and leaves us astounded.
      For example, it says this of God the Father and the Son: (Ps.2:7) “He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.'” (Lit. Heb. “begotten you”) This verse points to the eternal begetting of the Son by the Father. We have invented anything here when we teach that this “begetting” is an internal act of the person of the Father. It simply describes God as he describes himself. Or consider it says about the Son, (John 1:1) “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” His coming as the Son fulfilled the prophecy of Micah 5:2 – “Out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” This coming is of one who has existed forever (Again, we’re back to the eternal generation of the Son). The doctrine of the Vicarious Atonement comes into play here as we remember that not just anyone could be offered up to make satisfaction for our sins. God the Father’s justice required something only the Son of God, coequal in divine majesty, could achieve for us.
      While the internal acts of the Trinity show the distinction of the persons of the Trinity, the external acts show their unity in actions like creation, and redemption, and conversion. For example, when Jesus is referred to as the “everlasting Father” in Isaiah 9 we understand that as an example of the perfect unity with which our Triune God operates in various external acts like “fathering,” (begetting) new children as he leads more and more people to believe in him.
      Sometimes, the word “mystery” is used rightly to express something we cannot fully grasp, but only describe. Other times it is used to eschew any attempts to be confessional about a doctrine that can and does divide and set Christians apart from others who deny it.

      • Rod Bristol says:

        Thanks for responding. The reason I say the Trinity doctrine was invented is that it does NOT flow elegantly from scripture. It surely “feels” elegant to many who are trained in the doctrine, but that apparent elegance is just the way confirmation bias works in human minds.

        On Psalms 2:7– If “…today I have become your father” proves anything, it proves that the son is NOT the son eternally. Philosophically, one might say that “today” is an indefinite today that should be understood as forever. That sort of creative thinking is what I call invention. “Today” more logically corresponds to what Gabriel announced to Mary, that she would be pregnant by the Holy Spirit. The other meanings people have assigned to that psalm are small inventions to support the big invention of the Trinity.

        On John 1 — John emphatically does NOT say that the Son was with God and the Son was God. He does say that the Word became flesh and lived among us. What John indicates here and what all the gospels fill out is that Jesus’ life on earth was a sojourn. That sojourn does not imply anything about eternity, regardless of how earnestly one might wish it did.

        On Micah 5 — Coming forth from ancient days is NOT coming forth from eternity, not even close. There could be a poetic correspondence to “eternity past,” if that idea was in the Bible. This text has to be squeezed hard to make it refer to eternity before the beginning. Only a creative imagination could see this text supporting the idea of multiple persons in one God, one of whom is submissive to another. Jesus was loved before the foundation of the world, according to John 17:24. You and I both know how to make the case that every one who follows Jesus also was loved before the foundation of the world, which is why he came to save us, according to his intent from before the foundation of the world.

        The Bible has NO teaching of “internal acts of the Trinity.” Only a creative philosopher would postulate internal and external aspects of (Triune) God. These ideas are not from scripture. They are read back into scripture as “logical conclusions.” The logic of those conclusions begins with assumptions.

        Again, I say we should respect the mystery of God because it is beyond our grasp. Recognizing that is not to stop trying to understand, because “whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6). However, when we make up ideas about God that go beyond what God reveals, we are making idols.

  3. The Rev. John Wesley Morrison says:

    Wayne Grudem is wrong when he says that no respected teacher in Christian history has questioned the doctrine of the Eternal Submission of the Son to the Father prior to certain recent evangelical feminists. Certainly, the writings of Adam Clarke, Methodism’s early Biblical commentator and theologian, are still read and respected as both Biblical and evangelical (at least in an Arminian sense). Yet, Clarke cannot be said to have accepted the doctrine of Eternal Submission, because he could bring himself to accept, as Biblical, the doctrine of Eternal Sonship, upon which it is based. Clarke understood the scriptural designation “Son of God” as applying only to Christ’s humanity, not to his divinity. For example, in Clarke’s Commentary, he writes with reference to Luke 1:35: “Of this Divine nature the angel does not particularly speak here [i.e. when saying that Christ “shall be called the Son of God”], but of the tabernacle or shrine which God was now preparing for it, viz. the holy thing that was to be born of the virgin. Two natures must ever be distinguished in Christ: the human nature, in reference to which he is the Son of God and inferior to him, Mark 13:32; John 5:19; John 14:28, and the Divine nature which was from eternity, and equal to God, John 1:1; John 10:30; Roman 9:5; Colossian 1:16-18. It is true, that to Jesus the Christ, as he appeared among men, every characteristic of the Divine nature is sometimes attributed, without appearing to make any distinction between the Divine and human natures; but is there any part of the Scriptures in which it is plainly said that the Divine nature of Jesus was the Son of God? Here, I trust, I may be permitted to say, with all due respect for those who differ from me, that the doctrine of the eternal Sonship of Christ is, in my opinion, anti-scriptural, and highly dangerous.” Clarke’s position, which he vehemently defended, led to Methodism’s first theological controversy — a controversy that was more or less settled after John Wesley’s death on the side of Eternal Sonship. However, Wesley himself, while disagreeing with Clarke, did not consider the argument of this respected teacher to be heretical, only peculiar; and Wesley dealt with it respectfully as a matter of adiaphora. Obviously, both sides of the current debate reject Clarke’s position since Eternal Sonship is in fact the point of departure for each of their arguments over Eternal Submission. Nevertheless, given the learned opinion of so deeply spiritual a man as Adam Clarke, who was thoroughly versed in scripture, it seems to me that the issues surrounding Eternal Submission based on Eternal Sonship, cannot simply be dismissed out of hand, in the manner that Grudem does, as some newfangled, feminist invention. Questions concerning Christ’s sonship and submission to the Father are real and Biblical; and certainly warrant further theological exploration, especially since Grudem (and others) are drawing from them conclusions, open to question, about the roles of men and women in the life of the church. Still, in the end, perhaps the best way to handle this controversy is to adopt Wesley’s adiaphoric approach to Clarke, which is much in line with his famous sermon on A Catholic Spirit: “Though we can’t think alike, may we not love alike?”

    • The Rev. John Wesley Morrison says:

      There is an obvious error in my post above. I meant to include a “not” in the subordinate clause of the third sentence, but instead of typing it, I just thought it. Mea culpa! Sorry! An emphatically uppercase correction yields the sentence: “Yet, Clarke cannot be said to have accepted the doctrine of Eternal Submission, because he could NOT bring himself to accept, as Biblical, the doctrine of Eternal Sonship, upon which it is based.”

    • I’m confused, how can the conflict Clarke had in his mind over eternal submission ever be allowed to stand, even as an adiaphoron?

      Humbly submitting here…(ready to be corrected)…but what about the name given to Jesus at his birth as “the Son of the Most High” (Lk 2 – same thing as the Son of God)? Would that qualify as “part of the Scriptures in which it is plainly said that the Divine nature of Jesus was the Son of God?” He was the Son, eternally begotten of the Father from eternity (Ps.2:9) and then at his birth (Lk 2) the son of Mary is assigned that same status as “the Son of the Most High.” Later when the High Priest asked (the man) Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the Son of God?” was it with some kind of split personality that he answered, “Yes, it is as you say…” ??

      The writer to the Hebrews (1:5, 2:7) was looking back on the person of Christ when he quoted both Ps.2:7 (You are my Son) and Ps.8 (made a little lower than the angels) to make the case for his supremacy as true God, the Son from eternity, who also became man and took on a human body. In Acts 2:34 Peter quotes David in Ps.110:1 to make the same point, that what is said about the man, is something you’re really saying about the person of Christ, who is the eternal Son of God. “The Lord said to my Lord: sit at my right hand.”

      All this matters to us, of course, because all of the attributes of the divine nature and of the human nature are given to the Person of Christ in such a way that what can be said of each nature can also be said of the person. We need Jesus to be the God-Man so that what he does on the cross counts for all sinners of all time. Isaiah spoke about the Messiah as a man who suffers, but that in his suffering he would accomplish divine works, which only the Son of God could accomplish.

      Of course, the conclusions we come to here about the Person of Christ with regard to the doctrine of the atonement, also spill over in to the doctrine of the roles of man and woman and the real presence of the Lord’s body in the sacrament. Christ’s eternal submission doesn’t take away from his honor. He shares all divine honor with the Father. Yet, as the Son, from all eternity he accepted a different role with respect to the Father. That he retains a human nature in heaven, to which are communicated divine attributes, also means that his body may be truly everywhere and truly present in the sacrament.

      • Bill: I apologize for taking so long to get back to you. I am a pastor of 34 years in the throes of closing out my current pastoral ministry and transitioning into retirement on July 1. So, I am afraid that my response to you, in addition to being tardy, may also be somewhat hurried and incoherent. Still, I will do what I can, allowing Clarke to speak for himself as much as possible.
        You ask how Clarke’s rejection of Eternal Sonship could be deemed by Wesley or anyone else to be a matter of adiaphora. With regard to this, there are three things to consider:
        1. Clarke’s doctrine of God is fully Trinitarian in precisely the same way that the Logos-theology of the Gospel of John is fully Trinitarian. Clarke correctly understands John 1:1-3 to be a Christological interpretation of Genesis 1:1-3. In Genesis 1:2, the Spirit of God (Ruach Elohim), which is literally the “breath” or “wind” of God, brooded, hovered, or moved (depending on how one translates rachaph) over the cosmic deep. Then, in Genesis 1:3, God (Elohim) speaks light into existence. The Word, thus spoken by God, is termed “ho logos” in the Greek of John 1:1 and the Evangelist goes on to observe that this Word was with God and was God from the beginning and that nothing was created in Genesis 1 without God’s speaking, i.e. without God’s Creative Word. Thus, Clarke can claim a Johannine Trinity of “God, the Word of God, and the Spirit of God” as being “in the beginning” (i.e. from eternity) constitutive of the One God. God was never without the Spirit and the Word. God from eternity is the breather of the Divine Breath and the articulator of the Divine Word and what God breathes and articulates, as the Spirit and the Word, are expressions of God’s eternal self, unoriginated, fully and distinctively divine. Since John 1:14 declares that this Word, which is True Light (John 1:9), was made flesh and dwelt among us human beings, Clarke can also claim the Word of God incarnate in Jesus Christ is divinely unoriginated, co-eternal and co-equal to God and the Spirit of God.
        Therefore, according to Clarke, Jesus’ divine nature is fully and intrinsically divine. (On this point see especially Clarke’s “The Love of God to a Lost World” in his Discourses on Various Subjects relative to the Being and Attributes of God, and His Works in Creation, Providence, and Grace, 1830-1831.) And he can write in his Commentary at Luke 1:35: “The Divine nature [of Christ] had no beginning; it was God manifested in the flesh, 1 Tim. 3:16; it was that Word which being in the beginning (from eternity) with God, John 1:2, was afterwards made flesh, (became manifest in human nature,) and tabernacled among us, John 1:14.” From this, you can see that Clarke fully affirms the divinity of Christ as God’s Word Incarnate; yet, he does so without using the baptismal formula of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” or the doctrine of a pre-incarnate Father-Son relationship between God and The Word.
        2. It is only with respect to the pre-incarnate Christ that Clarke rejects the concept of a Father-Son relationship within the Holy Trinity. He has absolutely no problem in applying this familial language to the incarnate Christ, born, crucified, risen and ascended; or using this language in thinking theologically about the sacraments or the Christian life. But with regard to the pre-incarnate Christ, Clarke cannot convince himself that the scriptural title “Son of God” or phrase “only begotten” is meant to convey anything about the deity of the Incarnate Christ. Rather, he sees it as designating Jesus’ Messianic status as the preeminent member of God’s family of created beings. With respect to John 1:14’s testimony concerning the incarnation, i.e. “We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth,” Clarke writes in his Commentary: “The only begotten of the Father] That is, the only person born of a woman, whose human nature never came by the ordinary way of generation; it being a mere creation in the womb of the virgin, by the energy of the Holy Ghost. Full of grace and truth.] Full of favour, kindness, and mercy to men; teaching the way to the kingdom of God, with all the simplicity, plainness, dignity, and energy of truth.”
        In this judgment, he is supported by the fact that the scriptures often describe God’s relationship with the creation in familial terms. In his Commentary’s “Brief Remarks on Hebrews 1:8”, Clarke responds to the objection: “But is not God called Father; and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?” He answers: “Most certainly. That God graciously assumes the name of Father, and acts in that character towards mankind, the whole Scripture proves; and that the title is given to him as signifying Author, Cause, Fountain, and Creator, is also sufficiently manifest from the same Scriptures. In this sense he is said to be the Father of the rain, Job 38:28; and hence also it is said, He is the Father of spirits, Heb. 12:9; and he is the Father of men because he created them; and Adam, the first man, is particularly called his son, Luke 3:38.” Also, in his Commentary, he cites Job 38:7’s mention of the moment in God’s creative activity “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (KJV), saying: “This must refer to some intelligent beings who existed before the creation of the visible heavens and earth: and it is supposed that this and the following clause refer to the same beings; that by the sons of God, and the morning stars, the angelic host is meant; as they are supposed to be first, though perhaps not chief, in the order of creation.”
        More recently, a similar point has been made by Logos’ scholar in residence Dr. Michael Heiser in his The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Bellingham WA: Lexham Press, 2015, p. 25) and made with regard to the same scripture: “. . . the label ‘sons’ deserves attention. It’s a family term, and that’s neither coincidental nor inconsequential. God has an unseen family—in fact, it’s his original family. The logic is the same as that behind Paul’s words in Acts at Mars Hill (the Areopagus) that all humans are indeed God’s offspring (Acts 17:28). God has created a host of nonhuman divine beings whose domain is (to human eyes) an unseen realm. And because he created them, he claims them as his sons, in the same way you claim your children as your sons and daughters because you played a part in their creation.” I think that Dr. Heiser muddles the issue by subsequently insisting that the Old Testament moniker “Sons of God” is a “term of residence” indicating the heavenly abode of such supernatural beings, but I suspect he does this because he wants to find a place in scripture for Jesus as a pre-incarnate Son of God. However, it seems to me that what the children of God resident in both heaven and earth have in common is their creatureliness. All are created beings, as also is Jesus as touching his human nature; but not his divine nature, which, as Clarke insists, is “unoriginated” deity.
        Of course, Clarke knows that Psalm 2:7’s “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee,” is “produced by many as a proof of the eternal generation of the Son of God.” He responds to this claim by embracing the scriptural use of “begotten” and “Son of God” for Jesus as marking of his created existence as a human being within God’s plan of salvation through the Incarnate Christ’s birth, life, suffering, death and resurrection. Thus, Clarke takes Psalm 2:7 as a prophecy of the Incarnate Christ-event. In his Commentary, he writes: “Thou art my Son] Made man, born of a woman by the creative energy of the Holy Ghost, that thou mightest feel and suffer for man, and be the first-born of many brethren. This day have I begotten thee.] By thy resurrection thou art declared to be the Son of God, εν δυναμει, by miraculous power, being raised from the dead. Thus by thy wondrous and supernatural nativity, most extraordinary death, and miraculous resurrection, thou art declared to be the Son of God. And as in that Son dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, all the sufferings and the death of that human nature were stamped with an infinitely meritorious efficacy. We have St. Paul’s authority for applying to the resurrection of our Lord these words, ‘Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee;’— see Acts 13:33; see also Heb. 5:5; — and the man must indeed be a bold interpreter of the Scriptures who would give a different gloss to that of the apostle. It is well known that the words.”
        3. So, for Clarke, Jesus is given the title “the Son of God” in the New Testament not because of his full divinity, but because of his full humanity, which is “unique” among created beings, begotten as human and yet divine. (Indeed, “unique” is the real meaning of monogenes as used in John 1:14; not the traditional translation: “only begotten”, which is based on a false etymology. See Heiser’s The Unseen Realm, p. 314-315). This means that the title “Son of God” is crucially important to Clarke; for it is nothing less than a paramount scriptural testimony to the incarnation of the God’s Word in the man Jesus, who is fully unoriginated deity as well as a uniquely begotten human being. After all, it is not only Jesus’ divine nature that is saving, but his human nature as well. It is with both natures that the salvific link between God and humanity is forged. Clarke thinks that the incarnation is robbed of its central place in God’s plan of salvation by the doctrine of the Eternal Sonship, which speculatively pushes the saving creatureliness of Jesus, the Son of God, back into the pre-incarnate eternity of God. He even suspects that the impetus for this theological move came initially from the terminological compromises hammered out by Orthodox and Semi-Arian theologians in reaching consensus on the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. On this point, it is important to remember that Arius had no difficulty using the language “Son of God” and “only begotten of the Father” for his pre-incarnate Christ-being, deemed to be a heavenly creature (similar to the Neo-platonic Demiurge) who was either made or in some other way originated by God. Arians were able to make this familial language serve their needs by allowing it, with regard to the divine pre-existent nature of Christ, to suggest in common parlance that “There was a time when Christ was not”. Thus, Clarke found the doctrine of the Eternal Sonship to be both scripturally unsound and theologically dangerous and he lists his primary theological reasons in his Commentary at Luke 1:35: “This doctrine I reject for the following reasons:—
        1st. I have not been able to find any express declaration in the Scriptures concerning it.
        2dly. If Christ be the Son of God as to his Divine nature, then he cannot be eternal; for son implies a father; and father implies, in reference to son, precedency in time, if not in nature too. Father and son imply the idea of generation; and generation implies a time in which it was effected, and time also antecedent to such generation.
        3dly. If Christ be the Son of God, as to his Divine nature, then the Father is of necessity prior, consequently superior to him.
        4thly. Again, if this Divine nature were begotten of the Father, then it must be in time; i. e. there was a period in which it did not exist, and a period when it began to exist. This destroys the eternity of our blessed Lord, and robs him at once of his Godhead.
        5thly. To say that he was begotten from all eternity, is, in my opinion, absurd; and the phrase eternal Son is a positive self-contradiction. ETERNITY is that which has had no beginning, nor stands in any reference to TIME. SON supposes time, generation, and father; and time also antecedent to such generation. Therefore the conjunction of these two terms, Son and eternity is absolutely impossible, as they imply essentially different and opposite ideas.
        The enemies of Christ’s Divinity have, in all ages, availed themselves of this incautious method of treating this subject, and on this ground, have ever had the advantage of the defenders of the Godhead of Christ. This doctrine of the eternal Sonship destroys the deity of Christ; now, if his deity be taken away, the whole Gospel scheme of redemption is ruined. On this ground, the atonement of Christ cannot have been of infinite merit, and consequently could not purchase pardon for the offences of mankind, nor give any right to, or possession of, an eternal glory.”

        Finally, Bill, I want to thank you for setting forth clearly the classic scripture-defense of the doctrine of Eternal Sonship. As a United Methodist clergy-person, I am not doctrinally in disagreement with it. Indeed, the United Methodist Church embraces the Nicene Creed, a traditional support of this doctrine. Moreover, as a United Methodist, I am committed to a theological process, called the “Wesley Quadrilateral”, which credits scripture as “preeminent”, but also gives due consideration to tradition, experience, and reason in the doing of theology. This method is anchored in the sermons of the Rev. John Wesley, himself – the 18th century founder of the Methodism – and, as I wrote in my first comment, Wesley was in disagreement over the Eternal Sonship with Dr. Clarke, Methodism’s intellectually formidable first Biblical commentator and theologian. Wesley, an Anglican priest, supported the Eternal Sonship as a churchly doctrine; whereas Clarke, the Irish-Anglican layman and learned Methodist lay-preacher, was convinced by his own in-depth study of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures that the Eternal Sonship was a distortion of Biblical teaching. To Clarke, the Bible and plain reason were everything and creeds of little importance. Now, in his outright rejection of this doctrine, I think that Clarke goes too far and I myself affirm the Eternal Sonship as an orthodox doctrinal tradition. I have even found good material for preaching and teaching in my reflections upon the concept of a pre-Incarnate familial love within the Trinity. Nevertheless, I must admit that I suspect Clarke has the better scriptural argument. However, scripture is not the only element to be considered and it is clear that orthodoxy today does not intend the language of Eternal Sonship and Eternal Begetting to be taken literally, but rather as a figurative theological concept, relationally expressive of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Biblical theology is the starting point for Constructive Theology; not its end. Wesley, the priestly theologian and passionate evangelist, understood that; Clarke, the learned layman and equally passionate Scripture-lover apparently did not. Nevertheless, Wesley was tolerant of Clarke’s peculiarity. Still, Clarke was necessarily wrong in his reading of the scriptures concerning Christ’s Sonship. Regardless, I repeat what I said at first. The question of Eternal Submission, based on the doctrine of Eternal Sonship is far more complicated and demands far greater discussion than indicated by Wayne Grudem’s rather cavalier dismissal of those who are challenging his use of it.

        • Correction: In the next to the last sentence I meant to write: “Still, Clarke is NOT necessarily wrong in his reading of the scriptures concerning Christ’s Sonship.” The “not” dropped out in compostition.

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    • Tyler Smith says:

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  5. Barb Lewis says:

    From the average lay person: I wouldn’t want to spend any time on this topic. What a waste of time to get distracted (if not deceived) by this. God doesn’t change. Jesus called himself “Son” and Father, “Father” (they weren’t Bob & Larry before the Incarnation). If that’s not good enough for theologians, then they believe themselves more than what Jesus said, which is arrogance (God resists that btw). Check your hearts and get back to equipping the saints and reaching the lost. The church has a mission and time is short.

  6. As I said before and below, this was written in haste and it was only after I submitted it that I realized my failure to include spacing between the paragraphs had made this long response even harder to read than was necessary. Therefore, I am submitting this corrected copy. I hope that the spacing I have added will help. Sorry for the faux pas. For those, who think such theological discussions are a waste of time, I would suggest that it is possible to both think and chew gum at the same time, possible both to do theology and to do mission together amid the realities of our lives. Aside from the obligation we have to rightly divide God’s written word, which is at the center of Adam Clarke’s rejection of the Doctrine of Eternal Sonship, Wayne Grudem has found support in the Doctrine of Christ’s Eternal Submission for a questionable view of the relationship of men and women in the life of the church. What we think theologically can and usually does influence the nature and quality of our message and mission for Christ Jesus. The entire history of the Christian Faith is proof of this.

    Bill: I apologize for taking so long to get back to you. I am a pastor of 34 years in the throes of closing out my current pastoral ministry and transitioning into retirement on July 1. So, I am afraid that my response to you, in addition to being tardy, may also be somewhat hurried and incoherent. Still, I will do what I can, allowing Clarke to speak for himself as much as possible.

    You ask how Dr. Adam Clarke’s rejection of Eternal Sonship could be deemed by the Rev. John Wesley or anyone else to be a matter of adiaphora. With regard to this, there are three things to consider:

    1. Clarke’s doctrine of God is fully Trinitarian in precisely the same way that the Logos-theology of the Gospel of John is fully Trinitarian. Clarke correctly understands John 1:1-3 to be a Christological reading of Genesis 1:1-3. In Genesis 1:2, the Spirit of God (Ruach Elohim), which is literally the “breath” or “wind” of God, brooded, hovered, or moved (depending on how one translates rachaph) over the cosmic deep. Then, in Genesis 1:3, God (Elohim) speaks light into existence. The Word, thus spoken by God, is termed “ho logos” in the Greek of John 1:1 and the Evangelist goes on to observe that this Word was with God and was God from the beginning and that nothing was created in Genesis 1 without God’s speaking, i.e. without God’s Creative Word. Thus, Clarke can claim a Johannine Trinity of “God, the Word of God, and the Spirit of God” as being “in the beginning” (i.e. from eternity) constitutive of the One God. God was never without the Spirit and the Word. God from eternity is the breather of the Divine Breath and the articulator of the Divine Word and what God breathes and articulates, as the Spirit and the Word, are expressions of God’s eternal self, unoriginated, fully and distinctively divine. Since John 1:14 declares that this Word, which is True Light (John 1:9), was made flesh and dwelt among us human beings, Clarke can also claim the Word of God incarnate in Jesus Christ is divinely unoriginated, co-eternal and co-equal to God and the Spirit of God.

    Therefore, according to Clarke, Jesus’ divine nature is fully and intrinsically divine. (On this point see especially Clarke’s “The Love of God to a Lost World” in his Discourses on Various Subjects relative to the Being and Attributes of God, and His Works in Creation, Providence, and Grace, 1830-1831.) And he can write in his Commentary at Luke 1:35: “The Divine nature [of Christ] had no beginning; it was God manifested in the flesh, 1 Tim. 3:16; it was that Word which being in the beginning (from eternity) with God, John 1:2, was afterwards made flesh, (became manifest in human nature,) and tabernacled among us, John 1:14.” From this, you can see that Clarke fully affirms the divinity of Christ as God’s Word Incarnate; yet, he does so without using the baptismal formula of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” or the doctrine of a pre-incarnate Father-Son relationship between God and The Word.

    2. It is only with respect to the pre-incarnate Christ that Clarke rejects the concept of a Father-Son relationship within the Holy Trinity. He has absolutely no problem in applying this familial language to the incarnate, crucified, risen and ascended Christ; or using this language in thinking theologically about the sacraments or the Christian life. But with regard to the pre-incarnate Christ, Clarke cannot convince himself that the scriptural title “Son of God” or phrase “only begotten” is meant to convey anything about the deity of the Incarnate Christ. Rather, he sees it as designating Jesus’ Messianic status as the preeminent member of God’s family of created beings. With respect to John 1:14’s testimony concerning the incarnation, i.e. “We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth,” Clarke writes in his Commentary: “The only begotten of the Father] That is, the only person born of a woman, whose human nature never came by the ordinary way of generation; it being a mere creation in the womb of the virgin, by the energy of the Holy Ghost. Full of grace and truth.] Full of favour, kindness, and mercy to men; teaching the way to the kingdom of God, with all the simplicity, plainness, dignity, and energy of truth.”
    In this judgment, he is supported by the fact that the scriptures often describe God’s relationship with the creation in familial terms. In his Commentary’s “Brief Remarks on Hebrews 1:8”, Clarke responds to the objection: “But is not God called Father; and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?” He answers: “Most certainly. That God graciously assumes the name of Father, and acts in that character towards mankind, the whole Scripture proves; and that the title is given to him as signifying Author, Cause, Fountain, and Creator, is also sufficiently manifest from the same Scriptures. In this sense he is said to be the Father of the rain, Job 38:28; and hence also it is said, He is the Father of spirits, Heb. 12:9; and he is the Father of men because he created them; and Adam, the first man, is particularly called his son, Luke 3:38.” Also, in his Commentary, he cites Job 38:7’s mention of the moment in God’s creative activity “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (KJV), saying: “This must refer to some intelligent beings who existed before the creation of the visible heavens and earth: and it is supposed that this and the following clause refer to the same beings; that by the sons of God, and the morning stars, the angelic host is meant; as they are supposed to be first, though perhaps not chief, in the order of creation.”

    More recently, a similar point has been made by Logos’ scholar in residence Dr. Michael Heiser in his The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Bellingham WA: Lexham Press, 2015, p. 25) and made with regard to the same scripture: “. . . the label ‘sons’ deserves attention. It’s a family term, and that’s neither coincidental nor inconsequential. God has an unseen family—in fact, it’s his original family. The logic is the same as that behind Paul’s words in Acts at Mars Hill (the Areopagus) that all humans are indeed God’s offspring (Acts 17:28). God has created a host of nonhuman divine beings whose domain is (to human eyes) an unseen realm. And because he created them, he claims them as his sons, in the same way you claim your children as your sons and daughters because you played a part in their creation.” I think that Dr. Heiser muddles the issue by subsequently insisting that the Old Testament moniker “Sons of God” is a “term of residence” indicating the heavenly abode of such supernatural beings, but I suspect he does this because he wants to find a place in scripture for Jesus as a pre-incarnate Son of God. However, it seems to me that what the children of God resident in both heaven and earth have in common is their creatureliness. All are created beings, as also is Jesus as touching his human nature; but not his divine nature, which, as Clarke insists, is “unoriginated” deity.

    Of course, Clarke knows that Psalm 2:7’s “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee,” is “produced by many as a proof of the eternal generation of the Son of God.” He responds to this claim by embracing the scriptural use of “begotten” and “Son of God” for Jesus as marking his created existence as a human being within God’s plan of salvation through the Incarnate Christ’s birth, life, suffering, death and resurrection. Thus, Clarke takes Psalm 2:7 as a prophecy of the Incarnate Christ-event. In his Commentary, he writes: “Thou art my Son] Made man, born of a woman by the creative energy of the Holy Ghost, that thou mightest feel and suffer for man, and be the first-born of many brethren. This day have I begotten thee.] By thy resurrection thou art declared to be the Son of God, εν δυναμει, by miraculous power, being raised from the dead. Thus by thy wondrous and supernatural nativity, most extraordinary death, and miraculous resurrection, thou art declared to be the Son of God. And as in that Son dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, all the sufferings and the death of that human nature were stamped with an infinitely meritorious efficacy. We have St. Paul’s authority for applying to the resurrection of our Lord these words, ‘Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee;’— see Acts 13:33; see also Heb. 5:5; — and the man must indeed be a bold interpreter of the Scriptures who would give a different gloss to that of the apostle.”

    3. So, for Clarke, Jesus is given the title “the Son of God” in the New Testament not because of his full divinity, but because of his full humanity, which is “unique” among created beings, begotten as human and yet divine. (Indeed, “unique” is the real meaning of monogenes as used in John 1:14; not the traditional translation: “only begotten”, which is based on a false etymology. See Heiser’s The Unseen Realm, p. 314-315). This means that the title “Son of God” is crucially important to Clarke; for it is nothing less than a paramount scriptural testimony to the incarnation of the God’s Word in the man Jesus, who is fully unoriginated deity as well as a uniquely begotten human being. After all, it is not only Jesus’ divine nature that is saving, but his human nature as well. It is with both natures that the salvific link between God and humanity is forged. Clarke thinks that the incarnation is robbed of its central place in God’s plan of salvation by the doctrine of the Eternal Sonship, which speculatively pushes the saving creatureliness of Jesus, the Son of God, back into the pre-incarnate eternity of God. He even suspects that the impetus for this theological move came initially from the terminological compromises hammered out by Orthodox and Semi-Arian theologians in reaching consensus on the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. On this point, it is important to remember that Arius had no difficulty using the language “Son of God” and “only begotten of the Father” for his pre-incarnate Christ-being, deemed to be a heavenly creature (similar to the Neo-platonic Demiurge) who was either made or in some other way originated by God. Arians were able to make this familial language serve their needs by allowing it, with regard to the divine pre-existent nature of Christ, to suggest in common parlance that “There was a time when Christ was not”. Thus, Clarke found the doctrine of the Eternal Sonship to be both scripturally unsound and theologically dangerous and he lists his primary theological reasons in his Commentary at Luke 1:35: “This doctrine I reject for the following reasons:—

    1st. I have not been able to find any express declaration in the Scriptures concerning it.

    2dly. If Christ be the Son of God as to his Divine nature, then he cannot be eternal; for son implies a father; and father implies, in reference to son, precedency in time, if not in nature too. Father and son imply the idea of generation; and generation implies a time in which it was effected, and time also antecedent to such generation.

    3dly. If Christ be the Son of God, as to his Divine nature, then the Father is of necessity prior, consequently superior to him.

    4thly. Again, if this Divine nature were begotten of the Father, then it must be in time; i. e. there was a period in which it did not exist, and a period when it began to exist. This destroys the eternity of our blessed Lord, and robs him at once of his Godhead.

    5thly. To say that he was begotten from all eternity, is, in my opinion, absurd; and the phrase eternal Son is a positive self-contradiction. ETERNITY is that which has had no beginning, nor stands in any reference to TIME. SON supposes time, generation, and father; and time also antecedent to such generation. Therefore the conjunction of these two terms, Son and eternity is absolutely impossible, as they imply essentially different and opposite ideas.

    The enemies of Christ’s Divinity have, in all ages, availed themselves of this incautious method of treating this subject, and on this ground, have ever had the advantage of the defenders of the Godhead of Christ. This doctrine of the eternal Sonship destroys the deity of Christ; now, if his deity be taken away, the whole Gospel scheme of redemption is ruined. On this ground, the atonement of Christ cannot have been of infinite merit, and consequently could not purchase pardon for the offences of mankind, nor give any right to, or possession of, an eternal glory.”

    Finally, Bill, I want to thank you for setting forth clearly the classic scripture-defense of the doctrine of Eternal Sonship. As a United Methodist clergyperson, I am not doctrinally in disagreement with it. Indeed, the United Methodist Church embraces the Nicene Creed, a traditional support of this doctrine. Moreover, as a United Methodist, I am committed to a theological process, called the “Wesley Quadrilateral”, which credits scripture as “preeminent”, but also gives due consideration to tradition, experience, and reason in the doing of theology. This method is anchored in the sermons of the Rev. John Wesley, himself – the 18th century founder of the Methodism – and, as I wrote in my first comment, Wesley was in disagreement over the nature of Christ’s Sonship with Clarke – Methodism’s intellectually formidable first Biblical commentator and theologian. Wesley, an Anglican priest, supported the Eternal Sonship as creedal doctrine; whereas Clarke, the Irish-Anglican layman, Doctor of Literary Letters, and devout Methodist lay-preacher, was convinced by his own in-depth study of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures that the Eternal Sonship was a distortion of Biblical teaching. To Clarke, the Bible and plain reason were everything and creedal traditional of little importance.

    Now, in his outright rejection of this doctrine, I think that Clarke goes too far and I myself affirm the Eternal Sonship as an orthodox doctrinal tradition. I have even found good material for preaching and teaching in my reflections upon the concept of a pre-Incarnate familial love within the Trinity. Nevertheless, I must admit that I suspect Clarke has the better scriptural argument. However, scripture is not the only element to be considered and it is clear that orthodoxy today does not intends the language of Eternal Sonship and Eternal Begetting to be taken literally, but rather as a figurative theological concept, relationally expressive of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Biblical theology is the starting point for Constructive Theology; not its end. Father Wesley, the churchly theologian and passionate evangelist, understood that; Dr. Clarke, the learned layman and equally passionate Scripture-lover apparently did not. Nevertheless, Wesley was tolerant of Clarke’s peculiarity. But Clarke was not necessarily wrong in his reading of Christ’s Sonship. Regardless, I repeat what I said at first. The question of Eternal Submission, based on the doctrine of Eternal Sonship, is far more complicated and demands far greater discussion than indicated by Wayne Grudem’s rather cavalier dismissal of those who are challenging his use of it in this way.