ETS 2016: Ware defines Trinity view; Mohler urges conviction and compassion on transgender issues

Communications Staff — November 18, 2016

Theologians Wayne Grudem, Bruce A. Ware, Millard Erickson, Kevin Giles, and Sam Storms (left to right) participate in a discussion on authority and submission in the Trinity, Nov. 15 at the 68th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in San Antonio, Texas.
Theologians Wayne Grudem, Bruce A. Ware, Millard Erickson, Kevin Giles, and Sam Storms (left to right) participate in a discussion on authority and submission in the Trinity, Nov. 15 at the 68th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in San Antonio, Texas.

SAN ANTONIO (SBTS) — The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary led all participating institutions with more than 40 paper presentations from faculty and students at the 68th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Nov. 15-17. Of those, 15 presentations dealt with topics related to the conference’s theme on the Trinity in the areas of systematic theology, biblical studies, church history, and practical theology.

Bruce A. Ware, T. Rupert and Lucille Coleman Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Seminary, further defined his theological views in a highly anticipated session on authority and submission in the Trinity. Earlier this year, a debate on theological websites focused on the Trinitarian positions of Ware and theologian Wayne Grudem and their application to complementarian gender roles. Ware and Grudem have argued that God the Father and God the Son eternally have been equal in divinity but that the Son has submitted to the Father eternally. The view has been labeled as “eternal functional subordination” (EFS) or “eternal roles of authority and submission” (ERAS).

In his presentation, “The Nature of the Father’s Priority within the Trinity,” Ware announced he had modified his positions since the controversy started. He said he now affirms the “eternal generation of the Son” as found in the Nicene Creed based on the Greek New Testament word monogenes. While most modern translations render the word as “unique” or “only,” Ware said a new study convinced him it means “only begotten” as found in older English translations, thus lending biblical support to the Nicene Creed. Ware said, however, the Son’s begottenness further strengthens his view that the Father acts with paternal authority and the Son responds fittingly with “joyful obedience.”

“Father and son relationships are certainly far more than mere authority and submission, and we see this in the relation of the divine Father and divine Son,” Ware said. “Their love and fellowship and harmony and mutual glorification depict precious aspects of this father-son relationship, but at the heart of what it means in the economy for the Father to be Father and the Son, Son is the full and joyful obedience of the Son to the Father.”

Ware noted the “twin pillars” of Trinitarian orthodoxy, the equality of each member of the Godhead in divine essence and the distinctiveness of the three persons as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But he insisted that “the economic outworking,” or how God expresses Trinitarian relationships in redemption, reflects how members of the Trinity relate to each other through eternity. Ware said God’s revelation in salvation history and the testimony of Scripture support this claim and form the basis for a proper Christian understanding of God.

“If the self-revelation of God truly is exactly that, that is the self-revelation of God, and if his Father-Son relation depicted in all that we see in Scripture is in fact what it is shown to be, then it follows that the relation of authority and submission in the Trinity is indeed eternal,” Ware said.

In a panel discussion following the presentations, Ware distinguished between God’s power, which is an attribute fully applicable to each member of the Trinity, and authority, which Ware said is relational.

“Power is an attribute; it’s a capacity,” Ware said. “It’s like knowledge; it gives you the ability to do something with. Authority gives you the right; it’s a relational quality. … Authority is the exercise of power, but it is not power.”

Commenting on the theological debate in an interview, Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said the confessional boundaries of ETS set the inerrancy of Scripture and evangelical faith as “starting points for this discussion.” He also commended Ware for affirming the Nicene Creed, particularly the Son’s eternal generation. In a June 28 post on his blog, Mohler said he does not agree with the ERAS view but he defended Ware’s orthodoxy.

“I was very thankful for the course of the conversation because there was a very clear affirmation of the church’s historic faith and the Trinitarian shape of that faith and of the theological achievements of Nicea and Chalcedon that are absolutely essential to that faith,” Mohler said in the interview. “I thought both professors Ware and Grudem demonstrated Christian grace and in their interactions demonstrated a kindness and openness to discussion. I was particularly thankful for the contributions to the discussion made at this conference and the affirmation of the eternal generation of the Son, which I believe to be at the foundation of many of the questions that brought us to this conversation.”

Other SBTS presentations related to the Trinity included ETS secretary-treasurer Gregg R. Allison on Trinitarian works perfected in the Holy Spirit; Eric Johnson on Trinitarian relationships as a pattern for Christian maturity and community; Barry Joslin on how the Trinity is described in the book of Hebrews; and Michael A.G. Haykin on the Trinitarian confession of St. Patrick of Ireland.

Speaking to a room full of faculty, alumni, and students at Southern Seminary’s late-night event Nov. 16, Mohler said 25 years ago Southern was a “small band” of scholars at ETS because the majority of the faculty did not consider themselves evangelicals. But Mohler expressed gratitude for the fact that several current faculty have served as past presidents of the society and the seminary continues to lead in faculty and student presentations. Reflecting on the seminary’s history, Mohler said the high volume of SBTS participation and the reunion of faculty and alumni demonstrate the DNA of the seminary’s founding for research and Christian fellowship.

“I look around this room and just want you to know what an encouragement you are to me,” Mohler said.

Mohler: Biblical theology and compassion needed for transgender issues

SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr. urges conviction and compassion on transgender issues in ETS session on gender dysphoria, Nov. 15.
SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr. urges conviction and compassion on transgender issues in ETS session on gender dysphoria, Nov. 15.

The transgender revolution has advanced so quickly that many Americans do not know how to talk about it, but the church must respond with theological clarity, biblical conviction, and pastoral care, said SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr. in an ETS session on gender dysphoria.

While the transgender movement began its expansion in the 1990s, Mohler said evidence of its unprecedented growth can be seen in the new vocabulary entered in mainstream discussion since 2014, terms like gender dysphoria (feeling one’s emotional identity as opposite of biological sex) and cisgender (identifying with one’s biological sex). Mohler said the founders of ETS nearly seven decades ago would not recognize this discussion, but he also noted the difficulty many Americans have in keeping up with new cultural norms. He emphasized that while evangelicals should recognize society has constructed ideas about masculinity and femininity, they must also stand under Scripture and affirm that the gender assigned by biological sex is a gift from God.

“We’re the people who have to go back to the only authority we have for understanding what it means to be human and thus what it means to be male and female,” Mohler said. “And what is clearly now requisite of us is the development of a biblical theology that doesn’t merely try to answer the pressing and ever unfolding questions of this moral revolution, but helps to ground Christians ever more biblically in what the church often merely took for granted, unknowingly, and we were robbing God of the glory he is due by attention to what he’s revealed in Scripture and what he’s revealed in humanity made in his image. But we’ve got to go back and re-sew a fabric that has been rent apart by modernity, but also by the neglect of dealing with these issues not only in many evangelical pulpits but also in many evangelical seminaries.”

Mohler reminded attendees that the discussion of transgender issues involves “human beings made in the image of God, for whom our greatest concern is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and they are people to be loved.”

“To resist this is going to take more than platitudes, it’s going to take more than simple Biblicism, but what it does require is Scripture and biblical theology, and to think more keenly than ever before,” Mohler said. “And also to love like never before … This is where we as Christians need to be embarrassed that we would act as if that is a hard thing. It is not a hard thing. Not when we look at the world before us, not when we look at our congregations, and not when we look in the mirror.”

Audio recordings of all the ETS parallel sessions will be available online in December and can be found at etsjets.org/recordings.

ETS 2017 regional meeting

Southern Seminary will host the Southeast Region ETS meeting March 17-18, 2017, on “Work, Vocation, and Human Flourishing in the Christian Tradition,” featuring Gene Veith, professor of literature at Patrick Henry College, as the plenary speaker.

ETS members and seminary students can submit papers by Dec. 1. More information on the event and submissions requirements is available online at events.sbts.edu.

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