Saturday, January 23, 2010

Steve Hays and the Nicene Creed

I was recently asked to back up my comments that Steve Hays disagrees with the Nicene Creed as understood and taught by the Church Fathers and the church at large. Specifically, I raised concerns about consubstantiality and eternal generation. Regarding consubstantiality, it seems Steve disagrees that the Father, Son and Spirit have a numerically one and simple divine essence. Regarding 'eternal generation', Steve seems to think it relates only to the roles each member of the Trinity plays and not to their mode of subsistence.

Admittedly, I see disagreements with the Nicene Creed as somewhat of a red flag, so it's possible I am jumping to conclusions. Further, I was basing this moreso on what Steve was opposing vs. what he was affirming. So below are a list of quotes from Steve on the subject and if he would like to take this opportunity to clarify his views on consubstantiality and eternal generation and square them with the orthodox position, that would be great.


You can’t logically say the Son is unoriginated and also say he receives his essence from a second party (the Father). If he receives his essence from a second party, then the second party is the source of his essence–in which case he has his source of origin in the second party.(link)

You also need to justify your use of these metaphors in the first place. Why should we frame our formulation of the immanent Trinity in terms of generation and procession? (link)

“Of themselves” connotes sourcehood. By contrast, there is nothing above, beyond, or behind the persons. They aren’t “from” themselves anymore than they are “from” another. We’ve already arrived at a bedrock fact. The end of the explanatory trail. (link)

Steve: From what I’ve read, there’s a scholarly dispute over the more specialized question of whether homoousios was also meant to denote generic identity or numeric identity.

Me: You appealed to Calvin. Here's what he had to say on the subject: While he proclaims his unity, he distinctly sets it before us as existing in three persons. These we must hold, unless the bare and empty name of Deity merely is to flutter in our brain without any genuine knowledge. Moreover, lest any one should dream of a threefold God, or think that the simple essence is divided by the three Persons, we must here seek a brief and easy definition which may effectually guard us from error. But as some strongly inveigh against the term Person as being merely of human inventions let us first consider how far they have any ground for doing so. (Instant Toots I 13.2)  So while Calvin may have done some groundwork for your views, he didn't go that far. He didn't leave the orthodox fold. Your views seem closer to Adam Clarke than John Calvin.

Steve: Since, in my response to Perry Robinson, I twice went out of my way to distinguish Calvin’s seminal corrective from subsequent refinements which take it a step further, your quotation is badly behind the curve. How do you think quoting Calvin’s position contradicts my appeal when I explicitly qualified my appeal to Calvin from the outset? Are you paying attention?

ii) And, no, my position isn’t closer to Adam Clarke. Rather, it’s closer to Warfield, Frame, and Helm.

If it also happens to be closer to Clarke, then that’s purely coincidental. Maybe we also use the same brand of deodorant.

You might as well say that Clarke’s position is closer to Warfield’s.

iii) BTW, it isn’t essential for me to ground my position in Reformed precedent. As I’ve often said, exegetical theology is the first and foremost consideration. I frequently help myself to the exegetical arguments of non-Calvinist commentators if they have a sound argument for their interpretation. (link

Now, I myself don’t affirm double procession. But, by the same token, I don’t affirm single procession either. (link)

As to Heb 1:3, we need to keep a couple of things in mind:
i) To speak of the Son as a “copy” of God is figurative image. A metaphor is an analogy. Every analogy has an element of disanalogy. So the question at issue is to single out the intended point of commonality.

Stafford, with wooden literality, acts as if the process of replication is the point of commonality. But x can be a copy of y in another sense: resemblance. A copy, while numerically distinct, may be essentially identical with the original. And that’s the point of comparison in Heb 1:3. Not the process, but the product.

And keep in mind, once again, that this is figurative. The Son is not the actual end-product of a process. The intention, rather, is to establish the consubstantial identity of the Son with the Father. (link)

“Calvin and Luther did not go back and re-write Nicea. They took it for granted.”

To my knowledge, that’s inaccurate. Calvin rejected Nicene subordinationism in favor of the autotheos of each Person. (link)

2.Furthermore, the Resurrection hardly commits one to Swinburne’s version of Nicene subordinationism.

Indeed, Reformed theologians like Calvin, Warfield, Frame, and Helm reject Nicene subordination in favor of the autotheos of each Trinitarian person. (link)

And to take the further step of exchanging this image for the role of the Father as the fons deitatis or fons trinitatis is yet another wrong turn; metaphors are not interchangeable, and it is illicit to swap one theological metaphor for another. (link)

In formulating the Trinity, two opposing errors are to be avoided: tritheism and unitarianism. Nicene subordinationism is a harmonistic device to avoid tritheism by making the Father the primary God. Standing behind the phrases God “of” God, light “of” light, and true God “of” true God is the imagery of the Father as the fons deitatis or fons trinitatis. And this is a form of modalism. It preserves monotheism by treating the Son as a secondary or second-grade divinity, and the Spirit as a tertiary or third-grade divinity. What you have is a continuity rather than identity of essence. Categories of generation and procession serve the same function.

Nicene subordinationism represents a compromise position, swapping one heresy for another. A Catholic is not a liberty to question dogmatic formulations or reopen an old debate. (link)

Calvinism is committed to the eternal distinction of the divine persons, but not to eternal generation and procession. Just because you are committed to Nicene Orthodoxy on this point doesn’t mean that a Calvinist is.

Calvin, for one, rejected Nicene subordinationism in favor of the autotheos of each divine person. And his precedent has been taken up by such Reformed theologians as Warfield, Murray, Helm, and Frame. This marks a higher Christology and pneumatology than Nicene Orthodoxy.  (link)

Steve’s quotation of Warfield

It may be very natural to see in the designation "Son" an intimation of subordination and derivation of Being, and it may not be difficult to ascribe a similar connotation to the term "Spirit." But it is quite certain that this was not the denotation of either term in the Semitic consciousness, which underlies the phraseology of Scripture; and it may even be thought doubtful whether it was included even in their remoter suggestions. What underlies the conception of sonship in Scriptural speech is just "likeness"; whatever the father is that the son is also. The emphatic application of the term "Son" to one of the Trinitarian Persons, accordingly, asserts rather His equality with the Father than His subordination to the Father; and if there is any implication of derivation in it, it would appear to be very distant. The adjunction of the adjective "only begotten" (John 1:14; 3:16-18; 1 John 4:9) need add only the idea of uniqueness, not of derivation (Psalms 22:21; 25:16; 35:17; The Wisdom of Solomon 7:22 margin); and even such a phrase as "God only begotten" (John 1:18 margin) may contain no implication of derivation, but only of absolutely unique consubstantiality; as also such a phrase as `the first-begotten of all creation' (Colossians 1:15) may convey no intimation of coming into being, but merely assert priority of existence. In like manner, the designation "Spirit of God" or "Spirit of Yahweh," which meets us frequently in the Old Testament, certainly does not convey the idea there either of derivation or of subordination, but is just the executive name of God--the designation of God from the point of view of His activity--and imports accordingly identity with God; and there is no reason to suppose that, in passing from the Old Testament to the New Testament, the term has taken on an essentially different meaning. It happens, oddly enough, moreover, that we have in the New Testament itself what amounts almost to formal definitions of the two terms "Son" and "Spirit," and in both cases the stress is laid on the notion of equality or sameness. In John 5:18 we read:

`On this account, therefore, the Jews sought the more to kill him, because, not only did he break the Sabbath, but also called God his own Father, making himself equal to God.' The point lies, of course, in the adjective "own." Jesus was, rightly, understood to call God "his own Father," that is, to use the terms "Father" and "Son" not in a merely figurative sense, as when Israel was called God's son, but in the real sense. And this was understood to be claiming to be all that God is. To be the Son of God in any sense was to be like God in that sense; to be God's own Son was to be exactly like God, to be "equal with God." Similarly, we read in 1 Corinthians 2:10,11: `For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For who of men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God.' Here the Spirit appears as the substrate of the divine self-consciousness, the principle of God's knowledge of Himself: He is, in a word, just God Himself in the innermost essence of His Being. As the spirit of man is the seat of human life, the very life of man itself, so the Spirit of God is His very life-element. How can He be supposed, then, to be subordinate to God, or to derive His Being from God? If, however, the subordination of the Son and Spirit to the Father in modes of subsistence and their derivation from the Father are not implicates of their designation as Son and Spirit, it will be hard to find in the New Testament compelling evidence of their subordination and derivation. (link)

Steve’s quote of Warfield

But it is not so clear that the principle of subordination rules also in "modes of subsistence," as it is technically phrased; that is to say, in the necessary relation of the Persons of the Trinity to one another. The very richness and variety of the expression of their subordination, the one to the other, in modes of operation, create a difficulty in attaining certainty whether they are represented as also subordinate the one to the other in modes of subsistence. Question is raised in each case of apparent intimation of subordination in modes of subsistence, whether it may not, after all, be explicable as only another expression of subordination in modes of operation. It may be natural to assume that a subordination in modes of operation rests on a subordination in modes of subsistence; that the reason why it is the Father that sends the Son and the Son that sends the Spirit is that the Son is subordinate to the Father, and the Spirit to the Son. But we are bound to bear in mind that these relations of subordination in modes of operation may just as well be due to a convention, an agreement, between the Persons of the Trinity--a "Covenant" as it is technically called--by virtue of which a distinct function in the work of redemption is voluntarily assumed by each. It is eminently desirable, therefore, at the least, that some definite evidence of subordination in modes of subsistence should be discoverable before it is assumed.

In the 2nd century the dominant neo-Stoic and neo-Platonic ideas deflected Christian thought into subordinationist channels, and produced what is known as the Logos-Christology, which looks upon the Son as a prolation of Deity reduced to such dimensions as comported with relations with a world of time and space; meanwhile, to a great extent, the Spirit was neglected altogether…..The language in which it is couched, even in this final declaration, still retains elements of speech which owe their origin to the modes of thought characteristic of the Logos-Christology of the 2nd century, fixed in the nomenclature of the church by the Nicene Creed of 325 AD, though carefully guarded there against the subordinationism inherent in the Logos-Christology, and made the vehicle rather of the Nicene doctrines of the eternal generation of the Son and procession of the Spirit, with the consequent subordination of the Son and Spirit to the Father in modes of subsistence as well as of operation. (link)


Jnorm888 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jnorm888 said...

He's following a handfull of Reformed protestants that lean toward tri-theism. I saw this 2 years ago in Steve Hays. I could be wrong, but he might have issues with Chalcedonian Christology as well........I wouldn't put it past him if he did.

You were right to be bothered by it.......for those things were red flags.

And this is one of the reasons why when a new Orthodox Christian...with no background or knowledge in regards to these issues ask me if it's ok to read certain Reformed protestant books about the Trinity that they found in a book store.......I will say no......especially if it's by an author that doesn't like Nicene Triniterianism.

I would rather that they be grounded first in traditional Nicene Triniterianism before looking at books that might teach tri-theism. But if one has to read Reformed material about it, Turretin and those like him would be the best Reformed choices.

But yeah, their are a number of Reformed that don't like Nicea.....those that lean toward di-theism to tri-theism. And there seems to be a number of Reformed that may not like Chalcedon.....those that lean towards Nestorianism, And there are other Reformed that do embrace both Nicea(with the fillique) and Chalcedon.....and so there is a war among the Reformed in regards to these issues.


Godismyjudge said...

Hi Jnorm,

Your right that my concern here is tri-theism (or at least expressions that are equivalant with tri-theism). I agree about Turretin; I liked what he said on the subject. I think most Calvinists agree with the Nicene creed and would also see disagreements with the creed as alarming. Whatever Steve might mean here, his expressions are not typical.

God be with you,