All that is in God (Dolezal)

Dolezal, James.  All That is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017.

All that is in God is God.  That’s the argument of the book.  It is short but rhetorically powerful.  What Dolezal means is that by God’s simplicity, he is not composed of “parts,” whether physical or material.  If what we call God’s attributes weren’t identical to the divine essence, then those attributes would constitute God.  That means God would be God by virtue of something which itself isn’t God.  That means God would get actuality from something that isn’t God.  This is clearly impossible if we view God as the cause of all things.  How could something caused by God constitute part of God?

That’s the argument of the book in a nutshell.  From that powerful platform, Dolezal examines what he calls “theistic mutualism,” which can be anything from process theology to open theism to otherwise good Calvinists who deny God’s simplicity. Regardless of which variant is under discussion, Dolezal demonstrates that their lack of a robust grammar of divine simplicity ultimately cannot succeed.

Dolezal explores the standard problems with divine simplicity.  We’ll look at one.  Simplicity says that God is his attributes.  By contrast, if I say “James is wise and powerful,” I have stated a subject with two predicates.  If I say “God is wise and powerful,” I have not stated two separate things about God.  God’s attributes do not add up to be God. He is not the sum of his parts.  The difficulty is that if God is identical with his attributes, then each attribute is identical to each other.  That seems counterintuitive.  However, denying this claim ultimately reduces to the unacceptable conclusion that God is composed of parts (e.g., justice, love, etc).  How do we solve this problem?  We have to commit ourselves to some view of analogical language. We are discussing a reality that far transcends human categories, but is nonetheless analogical to them.

This book functions as a theological grammar.  It is definitely recommended reading not only for the doctrine of God, but also for theological method.

The Lost World of the Flood (Walton)

As in all of his Lost World books, we see all of the strengths and weaknesses of John Walton.  We might not like many of his conclusions.  Some of his argumentation is rather specious, but he has a knack for getting to the heart of the matter.  The way he presents his argument–by means of a series of propositions–is about as good as one could possibly find.  

I’ll go ahead and answer the main question.  Walton and Longman believe a) the text implies a universal flood.  However, b) they reject that a universal flood actually happened.  They do not seem themselves in rebellion to Scripture, as they understand–and argue that the audience would have understood–Scripture to use hyperbole to teach theological truths.  I’ll come back to this in the conclusion.

Part I: Method: Perspectives on Interpretation

Proposition 1: Genesis Is an Ancient Document

Proposition 2: Genesis 1–11 Makes Claims About Real Events

Proposition 3: Genesis Uses Rhetorical Devices

Proposition 4: The Bible Uses Hyperbole to Describe Historical Events

Proposition 5: Genesis Appropriately Presents a Hyperbolic Account of the Flood

Proposition 6: Genesis Depicts the Flood as a Global Event

The first series of propositions remind us that the Bible is written for us, but not to us.  Did God intend to teach the science that there is a cosmic ocean above the sky?  Our standard response is that such language is poetic.  That’s true to an extent.  Here is the problem: do we have any reason to believe a pre-Copernican reader would have thought such language was poetic?

Or take another example:  do you really think with your intestines?  Again, literary metaphors could save us, but I think the language is a bit stronger than mere poetry.  We still get “gut feelings” today and we don’t dismiss it as literary theory.

Walton deals with this problem by means of speech-act theory. There is a difference between “locution” and “illocution.”  Locution is the meaning.  Illocution is the saying of the meaning.  God’s truth, the interpretation of the facts given in Genesis 1-11, is the locution.  The three-tiered universe is the illocutionary manner.

On one level this is fine.  The danger is that we can then apply Occam’s razor to any supernatural stuff we don’t like.  Walton’s later language on “mythology” doesn’t help, either. He says ancient man didn’t make a hard and fast distinction between myth and history.  I’m not so sure.  The NT warns us against following clever fables. And protestations notwithstanding, you cannot rescue “myth” from the connotations of Greekk mythology today.  He is on better ground when he refers to such language as “supernatural” or “the invisible realm.”

I give this section a B-.  He makes numerous good points about ancient literature, but he hamstrings his project with sloppy epistemology.

Part II: Background: Ancient Near Eastern Texts

Proposition 7: Ancient Mesopotamia Also Has Stories of a Worldwide Flood

Proposition 8: The Biblical Flood Story Shares Similarities and Differences with Ancient Near Eastern Flood Accounts

These two propositions shouldn’t be that controversial.  No, Walton does not say that Genesis borrowed from Babylon.  Genesis is not indebted to Babylon.  Rather, both Genesis and Baylon are embedded in the same cultural river.  In any case, to prove x borrowed from y, we should have one dominant ur-text to show the borrowing.  We do not have that.  Walton and Longman score huge points in this section.

Part III: Text: Understanding the Biblical Text Literarily and Theologically

Proposition 9: A Local Cataclysmic Flood Is Intentionally Described as a Global Flood for Rhetorical Purposes

Proposition 10: The Flood Account Is Part of a Sequence of Sin and Judgment Serving as Backstory for the Covenant

Proposition 11: The Theological History Is Focused on the Issue of Divine Presence, the Establishment of Order, and How Order Is Undermined

Walton and Longman argue that the goal is order against nonorder/disorder.  I suppose those elements are there, and it certainly echoes the Gen. 1 account, but I don’t think that is actually the main idea here.

Proposition 12: The “Sons of God” Episode Is Not Only a Prelude to the Flood; It Is the Narrative Sequel to Cain and Abel

He goes through the option of who the Sons of God are.  He dismisses the Sethite thesis since there is no evidence for it.  Another option identifies them as super-kings who took many women in marriage.  While that was true of Gilgamesh, the Bible doesn’t say that, either.

Proposition 13: The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) Is an Appropriate Conclusion to the Primeval Narrative

Part IV: The World: Thinking About Evidence for the Flood

Proposition 14: The Flood Story Has a Real Event Behind It

Proposition 15: Geology Does Not Support a Worldwide Flood (Steve Moshier)

Proposition 16: Flood Stories from Around the World Do Not Prove a Worldwide Flood

Proposition 17: “Science Can Purify Our Religion; Religion Can Purify Science from Idolatry and False Absolutes”

These are the most controversial propositions.  I’ll be honest, the geological section was a bit too sciency for me.  I was familiar with Walton’s claim that if a universal flood happened, where would the water drain off to?  He writes,

If the sea level rose for 150 days until it covered the tops of the mountains, and the sea level rose 16, 946 ft to the top of Ararat, then it was logically 16, 946ft across the earth.  This requires about 630 million cubic miles of additional water weighing 3,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons.  Here is the problem:  the oceans had to triple in volume in 150 days and then shrink quickly back to normal.  Where did the 630 million cubic miles of water go? There is no ocean to drain to because the oceans are already filled.

If you hold a worldwide flood, there is a way to salvage it.  The main problem is where did the water go in so short a time?  The solution is cosmic geography.  The ancient world understood (as in Genesis 1) that were the Great Deeps (tahom).  It’s real but you can’t dig there to find it.  God probably opened the Great Deep at the end of the flood.  Granted, that’s speculation but it makes the best sense of the problem. If you don’t hold to this kind of cosmic geography where the tahom supervenes on our material world, then you have a real problem with the flood waters.


I think they make numerous good points on the difficulties in a universal flood.  These cannot simply be dismissed. Ultimately, I do not find their arguments conclusive.  I think their epistemology is fatally flawed. Let’s grant both (a) and (b) mentioned in the introduction to this review.  If we reject a global flood and the audience understood that to be the case, then it’s hard to see how they can maintain that the Bible is teaching a global flood.  God (and/or the human prophets) spoke in a way to be understood.  If the audience would have understood, for all practical purposes, that the flood was local, then Walton and Longman cannot seriously claim the text teaches it was global.

Simply Trinity (Barrett)

Barrett, Matthew. Simply Trinity

It’s hard to imagine a near-perfect book. This is one. I wanted to highlight every single word. I cannot imagine a better book on the Trinity. I am going to say something that isn’t commonly said in these debates: if you are manipulating the Trinity to back up a social program or second-order teaching, you need to be deposed from ministry. This book is a crash course in Trinitarian grammar. I cannot imagine a better intro to the Trinity.

Social readings of the Trinity cannot affirm one will in the Trinity or inseparable operations. That puts them outside of orthodoxy. Most cannot affirm eternal generation. That puts them outside Nicea.

Basic Trinitarian Grammar

It is not enough to say 1 essence/3 persons. It will not do to find proof texts that may or may not say that. Rather, you have to have a grammar that weaves these thoughts together. First, how do we identify the persons? We do so by their origins of relation. Full stop.

The three persons are subsistences of the one essence. Upon that sentence hinges the essence (no pun) of all Trinitarian grammar.

The immanent Trinity is ontology. The economic Trinity is God’s plan of salvation. The danger is identifying the two. What the Great Tradition does is see how one reflects the other. Barrett has a helpful chart:

The doctrine of simplicity keeps the Trinity from collapsing into modalism or tritheism. There is one simple essence that has three modes of subsistence. God is not simply just three persons. The one undivided essence subsists in three persons. This rules out multiple wills in the Trinity and demands the doctrine of eternal generation.

Eternal generation means from all eternity “God communicates the one simple, undivided essence to the Son.” This is a spiritual, not physical generation. Barrett lists how John Gill identified the marks of a wrong type of generation:

Some more grammar:

The Enemy: Social Trinitarianism

Barrett helpfully identifies the marks of social trinitarianism.

Eternal Functional Subordination

We will camp out here. As those who posit the Son is eternally functionally subordinate to the Father, they not surprisingly say, “To the Father belongs ultimate praise and glory” (Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, 67). To Jesus, logically, belongs a lesser glory. That sentence should bother you. Barrett then points out a number of fatal problems to EFS/ESS.

Even more, EFS cannot simultaneously speak of ontology and function. They want to say that the Son is ontologically equal to the Father, though functionally subordinate. That cannot work. As Barrett notes, “As subsistences of the essence, the persons are ontological through and through.” You can’t simply add the category “functional” to this. While I am not a Van Tillian, he is right here: the persons of the Trinity equally exhaust the divine essence. If they fully exhaust the divine essence, function goes out the window.

Barrett goes on to say that they can’t appeal to homoousios to strengthen their position. You can’t simply say the persons are homoousios. Homoousios works in a specific context. That context, at least for the Son, is eternal generation. “The Son subsists from the same essence as the Father because he is eternally generated from the Father.” That’s it. Simply Trinity.

Hebrews and Jesus’ Obedience

Jesus couldn’t have been eternally obedient to the Father for one simple reason: he became incarnate to learn obedience. If EFS is true, then the contrast in Hebrews 5:8 is gone.


I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a book this much. It was pure delight.

Liturgical Nestorianism (Jordan)

The Elements of Worship

terminism: defining one term by its other. There is a tendency to reduce everything in theology to laws. Laws are important, but God didn’t always do that. There are types, symbols, analogies, etc (66). This means God is only allowed to communicate his desires via commands and not in patterns.

Disclaimer: I am certainly NOT advocating Jordan’s approach to worship nor really much else associated with the man. But I do think Jordan neatly summarizes the situation and points out several flaws in some (not all) RPW approaches. Jordan’s thesis is more or less correct: As (practical) Nestorianism is the separating the human and divine natures in Christ, leading to a diminution of the human nature, so liturgical Nestorianism means keeping the human so far away from worship that he is nothing more than a recipient who hears preaching sings (a little).

Initial key points:

(1) Strict RPW advocates charge any kind of maximalism in worship as going back to OT types and shadows, as best seen in Roman Catholic worship. Jordan asks the obvious question: “Why do you assume (without proof) that Rome got Old Covenant worship correct?”

(2) The contrast in biblical is not a move from exterior to interior (this is Plato on crack) but from glory to glory. The goal is eschatological maturation, not Platonic interiorizing.

(3) Strict RPW advocates claim that a) NT worship is based on the Synagogue and not the Temple; and b) NT worship is regulated by God by direct command. Jordan points out that obvious: If this is true, then it is a meeting of silence. Nowhere does God command what goes on in the Synagogue. God simply commanded a holy convocation every Sabbath (Lev. 23). He didn’t say anything else.

(4)If something is “Fulfilled” in the New Covenant why do we normally assume that “fulfilled” means “done away with?” Isn’t this the textbook definition of dispensationalism? Mind you, I don’t think that everything should be done in the New Covenant.

(5) When God commands singing in the Bible, it is always accompanied by instruments. The 4th book of the Psalter (specifically Psalms 90-98) progresses from the arrival to the enthronement of Yahweh’s king). Music is connected with ascension and enthronement (Jordan 37).

(6) Levitical priests weren’t really mediators. There weren’t any mediators before Moses (not systematically). Levitical priests were household servants. Psalm 110 tells us who the true Mediator is in the old covenant. Only priests in union with the Melchizedekian priest-king mediate. But this is exactly what new covenant believers are (44).

(7)Can Revelation be used as an order of worship? Maybe.

Exclusive Psalmody

Jordan points out that Eph. 5.19 and Col. 3:16, which some used to refer to “three types of Psalms,” do not refer to corporate worship at all, but to the daily life of the believer (85).

If the Song is an element in worship, it should be applied the same as other elements (86). When we preach, we use “new words.” When we pray in worship, we use “new words.”


This book highlights all of the weak points in an overly strict interpretation of the Regulative Principle of Worship. Jordan’s idiosyncrasies are kept at a blessed minimum.

1-2 Chronicles (Leithart)

Leithart, Peter J. 1-2 Chronicles. Brazos.

Although I am quite critical of much of Leithart’s project, I do concede that his handling of the biblical text–when he stays at the level of the text–is usually quite good.  If you want perceptive outlines of books of the Bible, you could do much worse than Leithart.

1-2 Chronicles echoes the creation account.  Leithart suggests the Chronicler “is retelling the entire history of the Old Testament in, with, and under the history of kings.”  He proposes the following pattern:

* The genealogies in 1 Chr. 1-9 echoe Genesis
* Saul’s death in 1 Chr. 10 echoes Slavery in Egypt.

* David in 10-29 is Exodus and Sinai

* Solomon in 2 Chr. 1-9 is Joshua’s conquest

* The divided kingdom in 2 Chr. 10-35 is the period of Judges, ending with Saul.

* The decree of Cyrus in ch. 36 is the establishment of the monarchy.

Another main theme is music.  “Chronicles tells us who sings when and why.” Leithart suggests that music is a form of “guarding” (1 Chr. 25:8; the term for duties, mishmeret, is derived from shamar, guard).

Key idea: Biblical genealogies lean eschatologically, not protologically.


Note that in the center of the list is the Levites, music.

Back to Egypt

By beginning with Adam, the Chronicler is telling us that Yahweh is forming a new humanity.

Royal Moses

David is the Royal Moses

The center is the ark.  David is carrying on liturgical warfare.

Covenant with David

God builds David’s house.  We see a chiasm, but we also see a chiasm within a chiasm.

A and A’ also contain chiasms.

David’s Wars

Leithart observes that the geography here contains a “four-cornered theme.” This would suggest the rule of a future Davidic king. He further notes that the Old Testament land is symbolic of the whole world.

Section D gives the point for David’s wars: they mediate Yahweh’s justice.

The Pattern of the Temple

New Moses to New Solomon


Yahweh’s acts of dividing the people mimics the earlier act of creation.  Israel is first divided (badal) from the peoples as Yahweh’s own. Within Israel the Levites are divided from other tribes. Priests are divided from the Levites (Numb. 16:9). They create holiness boundaries, pronouncing clean and unclean.

David and the RPW

David actually innovates.  In 1 Chr. 23:30-32 he includes song within the Levitical order. He further organizes them into mishmeret, watches (1 Chr. 25:8).

Key idea: by including musicians in the center of genealogies, the Chronicler identifies music as the key vocation of man.

The Pattern of the Temple

1 Chr. 28-29

A problem with David’s wars and bloodshed.  Even just, wars contaminate the land (a large scale application of Num. 19).  

The first creation is by Yahweh’s Word.  The second creation is by the Moses’s conformity to the tabnit on the mountain. The tabnit of New Creation is imprinted on David’s heart and then passed to Solomon.

The Land at Rest: 2 Chr. 1-9

Key idea: “Solomon is Joshua to David’s Moses.”

There is also a chiasm contained within B.

Gentiles Ascend 2 Chr. 8

Sapiential Imperialism 2 Chr. 9

After the Death of Solomon (2 Chr. 10-13)

Marks of True Israel 2 Chr. 13

Land Undisturbed 2 Chr. 14:1-18

This is an example of liturgical warfare.  

Judah Becomes Israel

Rebuilding 2 Chr. 29

Key idea: the solution to wrath and horror is to cut a covenant.

Passover in Jerusalem 2 Chr. 30

There is an interesting use of language in 21:2: after tearing down the idols, Hezekiah “makes stand” (hiphil) the priests.

Forgetful 2 Chr. 33

Key idea: Manasseh is alienating himself from Yahweh’s hosts, whether angelic or human army–Yahweh’s human army, if Israel is seen as the earthly sacrament.

Why did Josiah go out to attack Egypt?  Leithart, following Pratt (2006), suggests that Josiah might have been a functioning vassal of either Assyria or Babylon.  Leithart suggests a deeper, more theological problem.  Judah’s kings are vessels of Yahweh’s kingship.  They aren’t supposed to meddle with the kings of other nations.  Neco, ironically, is a Gentile ruler much like Sheba and Cyrus.  He acts on behalf of Yahweh.

Despite advertising itself as a theological commentary, the book is usually sensitive to the nuances of the Hebrew text.  To be sure, we don’t have any reconstructions of the textual history, but no one would read that, anyway.  I read this book in one day.

Chiasmus in the New Testament

Lund, Nils. Chiasmus in the New Testament. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, reprint 2013 [1942].

Interesting question: in what way, if any, did ancient man think in chiastic patterns? If he did, does this suggest a non-linear way of thinking? He certainly thought in chiastic patterns, but it is dangerous to make sharp dichotomies on that alone (since chiasms can also be found in Homer).

While many Biblical passages are of a sublime style, it must be noted that some passages seem verbose, repetitive, or monotonous. The genius of chiasm is that it shows these passages aren’t simply being verbose, but are integral to a sophisticated (and quite beautiful) literary pattern.

The center of the chiasm is the turning point. Sometimes there is a change of thought at the center, which Lund calls “shift at the center.”

Key point: if the chiasm is longer than four elements, then the center is more clearly emphasized and the corresponding elements refresh each other.


Chiasms can also follow a linear pattern.


Sometimes chiasms can be mixed.


Sometimes the book consists of a string of chiastic examples. It’s hard to know if he is explaining the theory of chiasm or just finding them. I shouldn’t judge it too harshly, though. This was brand new in the middle of the century (or at least it wasn’t widely known).

This book is different from other books on chiasm is that he sees clusters of statements as forming one element in a chiasm. Modern works on chiasm see each statement (or part of a statement) as an element.


Lund is very aware that Paul didn’t write “Holy Ghost Greek.” Paul’s style is definitely not that of Homer. Is he inferior, then? Does not his constant beginning of sentences with kai and hoti indicate a cumbersome style? Perhaps not. Might it be evidence of an earlier Semitic (or even Asiatic Greek) style?

Lund is able to identify chiastic patterns in Paul’s letters, but as noted above, Lund combines multiple units into one element. This gives the text a “clunky” feel. For example,


Even though it is cumbersome at times, the chiasm is still clearly there.


When Lund gives chiastic outlines of whole books, his arrangement is much neater. I think that is because there are fewer units within the text to arrange.


Lund’s section on the gospels is quite good, as narrative, especially narrative with a Hebraic background, lends itself quite readily to chiasm.


While it is always good to look for chiasms, as it is a most superior way of organizing the text, we must admit that Lund goes overboard, as evidenced below:


The sending out of the seventy evidences a nice chiasm.


His take on Revelation is somewhat forced at times. That there is a literary structure to it is undeniable. In fact, it is probably chiastic in some ways. I just don’t find all of his chiasms persuasive, though. He does make some good observations, though. Per Rev. 9:


Some humor: “Chapter 13 did not, as some writers hold, come out of one of Paul’s portfolios.”


It’s true this book nowhere near approaches the sophistication of Dorsey (1999). To be fair to Lund, however, he broke the ground for chiasmus in the 20th century. It is dated in some regards, as noted by the references to form criticism. One of the advantages of chiasm is that it shows how form criticism is completely wrong. Aside from that, and taken with a grain of salt on some passages, Lund gives the student a number of chiastic outlines to work with.

Bavinck: Sin and Salvation in Christ

Bavinck, Herman, John Bolt, and John Vriend. Reformed Dogmatics: sin and salvation in Christ. Vol. 3. Baker Academic, 2003.

Bavinck continues his theme that “grace restores nature.” He addresses all of the loci of theology following anthropology, which he dealt with in his previous volume. This volume is not as philosophically heavy as the first two, so it might be easier to read for some.

Origin of Sin

As is the case with most 20th century Dutch writers, Bavinck was quite attuned to the reality of spiritual warfare. “Then we learn that involved in the struggle of evil on earth there is also a contest of spirits and that humanity and the world are the spoils for which the war between God and Satan, between heaven and hell, is waged (Bavinck 35).

Sinful Flesh

He gives a careful discussion on the contrast between “spirit” and flesh.” For Rome Adam’s transgression resulted in the loss of the superadded gift (43).  In this case fallen nature is identical with uncorrupted nature. This is one of the reasons that Thomas Aquinas, while perhaps knowing better, gave the appearance of reducing flesh to the physical. Bavinck writes, “In this sense flesh is contrasted with spirit, though not with the human pneuma, which, after all, is also sinful and needs sanctification….but with the Holy Spirit, which renews the human spirit….and also consecrates the body and puts it at the disposal of righteousness” (54).

The Spread of Sin

The Reformation stressed that original sin is not just the loss of something but simultaneously a total corruption of human nature (98).

Good take on free will: Humans have lost “the free inclination of the will towards good” (121).

The Nature of Sin

Sin is not a “substance” or a thing, but an “energeia” (137).

Bavinck has a good section on “The Kingdom of Evil” (146ff). He notes the numerous subordinate spirits, which have their own subdivisions. He explores the connection between “devils” (a most inaccurate word) and the spirits of dead persons (he rejects this identity; it’s just interesting that he explored it).

The Covenant of Grace

Bavinck’s discussion of the pactum salutis is fairly standard, but in it he makes some comments which appear to give the Son an eternally subordinate role.

This doctrine of the pact of salvation… is rooted in a scriptural idea. For as Mediator, the Son is subordinate to the Father, calls him God…, is his servant… who has been assigned a task… and who receives a reward… for the obedience accomplished… Still, this relation between Father and Son, though most clearly manifest during Christ’s sojourn on earth, was not first initiated at the time of the incarnation, for the incarnation itself is already included in the execution of the work assigned to this the Son, but occurs in eternity and therefore also existed already during the time of the Old Testament… Scripture also clearly… sees Christ functioning officially already in the days of the Old Testament (214)

The language of subordination is clearly there.  There is no denying it.  Several other things are going on, though. Bavinck says the Son is subordinate as a mediator, and this mediation preceded time (in one sense).  That’s all Bavinck is saying.  He isn’t trying to drive an ideology with it.  Moreover, in one sense Christ gives up his kingdom to the Father at the end, which would seem that his subordination is tied to that giving up the kingdom. Finally, in the previous volume Bavinck affirms the single divine will and the inseparability of operations, something no advocate of ESS can accept.

Later, Bavinck says that Christ’s mediatorial work is finished when he delivers the kingdom to His Father (481).

Covenant of grace: “The essential character of the covenant of grace, accordingly, consists in the fact that it proceeds from God’s special grace and has for its content nothing other than grace” (225).

Covenant and Election

“The covenant of grace is the channel by which the stream of election flows towards eternity” (229).  Bavinck doesn’t make a strict identity between election and the covenant of grace, but for all practical purposes he does identify them.

The Person of Christ

Bavinck sees the Christological history as “East — unity of person,” West — distinction between natures” (255).

Rome and the East see a communication of divine gifts, but not attributes to the hypostasis.  Lutherans see it to the attributes.

The Reformed say the person of the Son was immediately united with the human nature, and the divine nature was mediately united with it (276, citing Zanchi).

Nature and Person

Hegel said nature and person are related as essence and appearance (306).  This, obviously, will not do.  Rather, nature is the substratum, the “principle by which” a thing is. “Person” is the owner of the nature.  He acts through the nature.

We Reformed say that Christ had an infused knowledge, but that knowledge was only gradually completed. “He did not yet share in the beatific knowledge here on earth” (312).

The Work of Christ

Christ’s Humiliation

 Survey of relevant passages dealing with redemption, sacrifice, etc.

“Christ is the mediator of both creation and re-creation” (363). Christ is a mediator in both natures. 

Christ’s Exaltation

Regarding the atonement, Bavinck points out that intercession and sacrifice have the same range.  If the former is particular, so is the latter (466).

Salvation in Christ

Old Testament righteousness: it was not a personal quality of theirs but the case they represented (494).

Rome: Baptized children receive justification/infused grace.  They receive “sufficient grace” later on (515).  This illumines the intellect.

Reformed:  regeneration, faith, and conversion are not preparations that a person has to meet, but they are fruits which flow from “the covenant of grace, the mystical union, the granting of Christ’s person” (525).

The Reformation captured the idea of grace much better.  There was no opposition between natural and supernatural, but of sin and grace.  “The Reformation rejected this Neoplatonic mysticism” (577).

It is not a substance, but “a restoration of the form of the creation originally imprinted on humans and creature in general” (578).

This is required reading for all interested in the history of dogmatics.

The Certainty of Faith (Bavinck)

Bavinck, Herman. The Certainty of Faith. St Catherines, Ontario: Paideia Press, 1980.

This is one of those rare books that is able to make profound epistemological points while always remaining at the level of the layman. Reformed people might claim they are above the charismatic desire for “experience” and “emotion.” I suggest many are on the same level. If your faith is pointed towards the intensity of your emotions, if you don’t like celebrating the Lord’s Supper often (not necessarily weekly) because it wouldn’t be spay-shul, then I suggest you are much closer to the charismatic than you might want to admit.

Bavinck’s profound insight is that knowledge isn’t the same thing as certainty. He writes,

Truth is agreement between thought and reality and thus expresses a relation between the contents of our consciousness and the object of our knowledge. Certainty, however, is not a relationship but a capacity, a quality, a state of the knowing subject. One’s spirit may assume different states in reaction to different statements or propositions (Bavinck 19).

If you can’t grasp and appreciate this distinction, then you will be fair game for all sorts of philosophical con artists. In other words, how I feel about the truth is quite irrelevant to the truth or falsity of the proposition.

Pietism: The Harbinger of Humanism

The early Reformers certainly had their doubts like us. There was a crucial difference, though. Bavinck writes,

But the difference between the Reformers and their later disciples was that they did not foster or feed such a
condition. They saw no good in it and were not content to remain in doubt (39).

We can add one more point: you can look to the intensity of your emotions or you can look to Christ (corollary: The Lord’s Supper helps. Take it). Bavinck doesn’t mention it but this is the problem of the terrible Halfway Covenant. You didn’t look to Christ. You had to convince the sessions of the intensity of your emotional experience. The sick irony is that the membership requirements for Halfway members were the same as the membership requirements of full members in the better Calvinist churches on the continent.

A few pages later Bavinck notes that this pietism paved the way for secularism. He is correct but he doesn’t develop the point. I think it can be argued like this. This leads to common-ground, emotionally-based political orders. While it isn’t clear how that then leads to liberalism, it almost always does.

I truly hate pietism with all my heart.

Bavinck has a side line on the nature of revelation that is sometimes controversial but nevertheless correct: “Revelation is an organism with a life of its own” (61). He doesn’t mean it evolves evolutionistically or in a Hegelian fashion (fun fact: Hegel was actually skeptical of evolution, if only because he didn’t come up with it). Rather, it ties all facts together under a single idea. It is its own idea by which it must be grasped.

Another fatal problem with experience-based religion is that none of the essentials of the Christian faith can be deduced from experience. Nothing in my day-to-day life tells me of substitutionary atonement, the Trinity, or the Resurrection.

Faithful to covenant thinking, Bavinck contrasts experience-based religion with that of judicial, ethical choice. I either choose to believe in Christ or I don’t. Experience isn’t all that relevant (78ff). If faith includes understanding, either I believe in the promises or I don’t. I don’t have to answer “Do you know that you know that you really know” type questions.

That doesn’t mean emotions are wrong. Far from it. Bavinck is working with a creational view of man: man believes with his heart, his totality of existence (including both reason and emotion, the latter never controls the former).

The Mechanics of Faith

For more info, see Bavinck’s Prolegomena.

“Promise and faith are correlates. They address themselves to one another” (83). Moreover, “Faith is not the ground which carries the truth, nor is it the source from which knowledge flows to him. Rather, it is the soul’s organ.”

But can faith be certain? Answering this question might be tricky. We’ve already established that I can have varying degrees of certainty regarding something. Bavinck, however, suggests that faith can be absolutely certain. What is he getting at? This certainty is not something added on from the outside. Rather, it “is contained in faith from the outside and in time organically issues from it” (85). In other words, I do not trust salvation on the grounds of my faith but through it.

Bavinck has an admirable final section on the sacraments. It’s strange (well, not really) that many discussions on certainty and assurance often ignore the sacraments. The sacraments seal the promise of God to me (89). The final two pages end with the “cultural mandate,” though Bavinck doesn’t call it such. I share in Christ’s anointing and am a prophet, priest, and king.

Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity

Giles, Kevin.  The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017.

This is a great snapshot of the Trinitarian debate of 2016. Kevin Giles gives a good summary of the teachings of Ware/Grudem and the Nicene refutation of those teachings.  While this is certainly a five star book, it does have its shortcomings.  Giles sometimes gives the impression he is the star of this show.  To be fair, he stood against Evangelical Arianism when few would.  Further, the book repeats itself many times (usually in terms of quotations from blogs).

He defines complementarian as one who believes God differentiates man and woman on the basis of “roles,” primarily that of submission (footnote 1). An egalitarian is someone who believes that man and woman co-ruled before the fall.  Submission is a result of the fall.  I think the debate is a bit more nuanced than that, but it is workable for the moment.

Giles notes that some long-time advocates of ESS, men like Denny Burk, have finally broken rank with Ware and Co. 

Giles notes that George Knight III was the first person to speak of “role subordination” in the latter’s 1977 book, New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Men and Women.  Knight argued that Kephale in 1 Cor. 11:3 meant a subordinating chain of hierarchy.  He then applied it to the Trinity (Knight 33).  This is almost word-for-word Neo-Platonism.  It comes very close to Arianism.

Giles’ main problem with “role” language is that its common examples aren’t relevant.  The early examples were that of a ship captain and a sailor.  Those, however, are due to training, expertise, etc.  If he wanted a closer parallel he would have to find superiority by birth: slavery, apartheid, etc. As Giles notes, “Some are born to rule. Some are born to obey.” That is a more relevant example.  We will come back to it.   

In 1991, the Danvers Statement took Knight’s use of “role” and coined the term, as far as I can tell for the first time, “complementarian.”  This was unfortunate, as almost everyone before then thought his view was “complementarian.”  But even in the Piper/Grudem book, the Trinity wasn’t that big a factor in the argument.  It wasn’t until 1994 when Grudem issued his Systematic Theology did it become a factor.

In an almost throwaway sentence in a section explaining Grudem’s beliefs, Giles nails it: “In the New Testament, the title ‘the Son’ when used of Jesus Christ speaks of his royal status and power, never his subordination.”

Giles’ theological takedown of ESS is certainly worth your time, but his telling of the 2016 story is even more fascinating.  By early June 2016, it had appeared that the Grudem/Ware camp had won.  Then two Reformed women, Byrd and Miller, began pointing out the semi-Arianism of this position.  This had a snowballing effect.  Carl Trueman got involved.  Finally, Michel Barnes and Lewis Ayres, the two leading Patristics scholars in the English language, buried ESS.  It was beautiful. When someone of Ayres’ stature refutes your work, the game is over.

According to Giles, Miller “fired the first shots that led to the civil war among complementarians.”

Giles raises a good question that is worth considering: why did many confessional theologians who are definitionally precluded from accepting ESS wait so long to condemn it?  I have some ideas.  Reformed people were fighting Shepherdism, FV, theonomy, etc.  Those are worthwhile conversations, but the Trinity didn’t figure into them.

The problem with “we just get it from the Bible:”  the main problem is that the Bible doesn’t say the persons are homoousios.  Yes, Jesus and the Father are “one,” but what does that even mean?  One in nature?  One in goals?  One in love?  A good Mormon apologist can run laps around that.  Rather, we need to submit to the structure and grammar of the text.

To be fair, many in the CBMW camp say that complementarianism doesn’t depend on the Arian view of the Trinity.  I don’t think they can get off that easily. For decades that’s exactly what it depended on.  They camped out at 1 Cor. 11:3 and never left.  I’m glad that most have repudiated their early erroneous Trinitarianism.  I do wonder, however, if it will come back up in future exegeses of 1 Cor. 11.

A note on 1 Cor. 11: What does being head over mean?  Does it mean “source” or “authority?”  Source makes more sense, since women are allowed to prophesy alongside men, and the office of prophet is just beneath that of prophet.  If you read kephale as source, then you get the doctrine of eternal generation thrown in (which you are obligated to believe per Nicea).

Ware says only functions and authority can differentiate the persons.  That’s simply false.  For one, I can distinguish between two persons without knowing which one is in charge.  In any case, the Fathers were clear you distinguish them by their modes of origination. Full stop.  If you project human authority structures back into the Godhead as a way to define the persons, you are a pagan.  That’s literally no different from Greek mythology.

And lest anyone appeal to “Rahner’s Rule,” with Giles we can say, “Why they so enthusiastically embraced this rule given by a liberal Roman Catholic; a rule he never explains, a rule that virtually no two theologians can agree on what it means,” is anyone’s guess.

Towards a Critique

There are many angles from which to critique the doctrine of ESS.  I’ll start with some observations.

(1) Complementarians cannot simultaneously claim the Son’s subordination is merely functional on one hand and eternal and person-defining on the other. The latter is ontological, which entails (not just implies) a difference in essence.

(1.1) Phil. 2:4-11 says the Son willingly chose this role in the economy.  If that’s the case, then it isn’t a matter of eternal function.

(2) ESS reads Christ’s state of humiliation back into eternity past.

(3) You cannot affirm the Westminster/LBC’s use of the persons of the Godhead being “equal in power and glory” and hold to ESS.  ESS specifically rejects that they are equal in power (since exousia and dunamis) can sometimes be used interchangeably.

Strachan’s Rebranding of ESS is not “Thunderously Good”

Aimee Byrd

One great consequence of the Trinity Debate of 2016, which started over the issue of CBMW leaders teaching an ontological, eternal subordination of the Son to the Father (ESS/ERAS) and then applying that to men and women, is a resurgence of classical teaching on the Trinity and on the importance of biblical theology over and against Biblicism. However, even as the overwhelming consensus was that those who teach ESS are not in line with confessional Nicene trinitarianism, there never was any retraction of the teaching from CBMW or the from leaders who taught it. This is something that I wrote about in the summer of 2016, hoping there would be retractions, corrections, and even apologies.

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