Heresy and Matters of First Importance

As I have commented in the past, there is a raging battle going on right now on the subject of the Trinity. I tried to break it down for the average person, both in writing and on a recent podcast.

I commented in the podcast that those who hold to EFS are still brothers, and that at this point it is not appropriate to call them heretics. That still holds true, as far as I know, in every case except one.

Before we talk specifics, let me engage in a little prolegomena.

Here is a list of the things that, just in the past month or two, I have heard people call Heresy

  • Not holding to a 6×24 creation
  • Holding to a 6×24 creation
  • Not holding to a historical Adam and Eve
  • Not holding to a historical flood
  • Not holding to a global flood
  • Not holding to Sola Fide
  • Arminianism
  • The organic theory of inspiration
  • Not protesting at abortion clinics
  • Arminianism
  • Calvinism
  • Roman Catholicism
  • Not holding to Sola Scriptura
  • Not holding to Sola Scriptura in the same way (the hypothetical) I do
  • Believing that people with same sex attraction can be Christians
  • Believing women can be pastors
  • Open Theism

Heresy is a potent word. It has a pretty specific historical definition. Generally speaking:

Heresy is an obstinate commitment to, particularly if you are teaching it to others, a position that has been declared by the Church to be wrong AND that endangers one’s salvation.

When I use the term, I mean something like the above. I mean by it:

A position that one explicitly holds, that if true makes salvation as the Bible describes it impossible.

That brings us back to the conversation being had. I have been open about the fact that I think that the logical entailments of the EFS position are heretical. I have expressed comfort over the fact that the pro-EFS contingency is inconsistent and rejects those entailments.

However, new quotes have come to light. They are not new in the sense that they are newly produced, but new in the sense that they have not been part of the recent conversation until yesterday. They come from a book published by Dr Bruce Ware in 2005. Father Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships Roles and Relevance.

Full Disclosure, I have not read this book. I presume that Todd Pruitt has, and that is why he posted a litany of damning quotations on the Mortification of Spin blog yesterday. Todd also posted some important commentary, so I’d encourage you to take a look.

I want to focus on two quotes.

In many ways, what we see here of the Father choosing not to work unilaterally but to accomplish his work through the Son, or through the Spirit, extends into his relationship to us. Does God need us to do his work? Does God need us to help others grow in Christ? Does God need us to proclaim the gospel so that others hear the good news and are saved? The answer is an emphatic no. He doesn’t need any of us to do any of this. Being the omnipotent and sovereign Ruler over all, he would merely have to speak, and whatever he willed would be done…. No, the humbling fact is that God doesn’t need any of those whom he calls into his service. (57)

It is not as though the Father is unable to work unilaterally, but rather, he chooses to involve the Son and the Spirit. (57)

The primary critique, although Todd’s quotes bring in a secondary one[1], has always been that the posited eternal, ad intra, relationship of authority and submission necessarily entails two wills in the Trinity. These two wills destroy the doctrine of divine simplicity, which destroys the doctrine of perichoresis, which destroys the unity of the Trinity, which destroys Christianity. Even Al Mohler, in his defense of Ware and Grudem (as persons, not of their teaching necessarily), agrees that a plurality of wills in the Trinity is heresy.

I cannot fathom how the above quotes can be read in a way that results in anything but an explicit affirmation of a plurality of wills. Ware is not a stupid man, and I recognize that he has outwardly affirmed the singular divine will, and the inseparable ad extra operations, but I cannot reconcile how you can affirm the inseparable operations and singular will… but say that the Father could work unilaterally, but voluntarily involves the Son and Spirit.

Furthermore, look at the first quote. There is a creature / Creator line being drawn here. The Father is on the side of the Creator, and humans are on the side of the creature. The distinction is that God doesn’t have to use creatures in his work, but he chooses to… just like he chooses to use the Son and Spirit. The Son and Spirit, at least as they are described in being unnecessary to accomplish the Father’s will… have more in common with creatures than they do with the Creator. That is deeply troubling. He is absolutely right that the fact that aseity (self-sufficiency) is a divine attribute, related to omnipotence, means that the Father does not need creatures to do his work. However, what he seems to be saying here, explicitly, is that because of divine omnipotence and aseity… the Father doesn’t even need the Son and Spirit to do his work.

This, my friends, is a grave error. One that should bring us to our knees and plead for Dr Ware. What he is saying explicitly is heresy. Dr Ware says “It is not as though the Father is unable to work unilaterally, but rather, he chooses to involve the Son and the Spirit.” He might as well have said “Hear oh Christianity, the Lord is our God, the Lord is not one.”

I will get the question, “Are you calling Dr Ware’s salvation into question?”

My answer is this: No. I’m not. Dr Ware is calling his own salvation into question by propagating heretical, non-Christian teaching.

Remember what I said earlier, heresy is a belief that, if true, makes biblical salvation impossible. I presume that Dr Ware would agree with me that if the Father and the Son are not one, and the Son is not fully God in the same way that the Father is fully God, that biblical salvation is not possible. Penal substitution cannot work if the Son cannot make proper substitution for us (IE is fully human) but is not of sufficient worth to propitiate for us. (IE is fully God) Only God can restore God’s honor without destroying that which dishonored him. (see Anselm’s Why the God-Man) If what Dr Ware is saying is true, especially in regards to the Father being supreme over the Son, then not only is Reformed soteriology false… but Christian soteriology as a whole is false.

My friends, this is a matter of first importance. Reformed Christians are willing to call all sorts of things heresy, that with all due respect… simply are not. The unity of the Trinity… the congloriousness and consubstantiality of the Son and Spirit… the denial of those things is. What Dr Ware is teaching is heresy.

Am I saying that Dr Ware is unsaved? No, I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t know if he really truly believes that the Father is supreme ad intra over the Son. I know that he wrote that, and I assume he wouldn’t have written something he didn’t believe to be true. I also don’t know if he has changed his mind on that since 2005. However, I am gravely concerned for Dr Ware’s salvation, and beg him to reconsider, and to submit himself to the consistent biblical teaching of the Church since 325 that the Father is to be glorified WITH the Son, and WITH the Spirit… not OVER the Son, and OVER the Spirit. And to abandon this nonsense that the Father could act unilaterally without the Son or Spirit.

Dr Ware, if you are reading this, and I hope you are. I love you, I am concerned for you, and I would love to discuss this with you in a more direct way. I would love to have you reassure me that I have nothing to worry about, and I would love to be a part of the solution which brings us all back into alignment with each other as we confess the faith once delivered to the saints. Please, reach out to me, I will drop everything I can to make time to discuss this with you. We can record it and post it, or we can not.

  1. As an aside, I am gobsmacked by the way that Ware indicates that the Father is supreme over the Son, and how his statements in the above mentioned book are substantively indistinguishable from those of Arius in the Thalia. Time permitting, there will be a follow up post exploring these troubling parallels.

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