I have recently written about a disturbing turn of events regarding Dr Bruce Ware. I had some strong words, and I don’t take back any of them.
Words Have Meanings
It should be noted that Dr Ware has responded to these critiques in a lengthy open letter, in which he responds to some critiques. Before I go on to the subject of this post, I want to address something.
In my previous critique, I focused on two quotes from page 57 of Dr Ware’s book Father Son and Holy Spirit: Relationships Roles and Relevance. In these quotes, Dr Ware explicitly states that “what we see here of the Father choosing not to work unilaterally but to accomplish his work through the Son, or through the Spirit,” and again “It is not as though the Father is unable to work unilaterally, but rather, he chooses to involve the Son and the Spirit.”
In his recent open letter he writes the following:
I did not intend to suggest that the Father ever would act in such an independent manner, or could act independently, strictly speaking, in light of the Trinitarian union of persons. Indeed, he acts always and only inseparably with the Son and the Spirit. (Emphasis is Dr Ware’s)
I will be blunt, this is utterly unsatisfactory. Dr Ware did not merely suggest that the Father could act independently (I’m taking independently and unilaterally to be synonyms here), he explicitly stated that the Father could act unilaterally. If words have meanings, and I assume that Dr Ware is not a liberal… so they do, then what he is saying now and what he said in his 2005 book cannot cohere. I am encouraged by his insistence that he holds to Nicene orthodoxy, and his summary of what that is. However, what he wrote in 2005 is an explicit contradiction to Nicene orthodoxy, and rather than simply claim that he was imprecise (which usually means, I’m partially to blame for the fact that you didn’t understand me)… he needs to repudiate what he wrote in terms which are just as explicit and clear as what he actually wrote.
Doctrinal Statements Have Meanings
That said, I wanted to take today to compare what Dr Ware has said to two doctrinal statements. Dr Ware is on staff at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). SBTS holds two doctrinal documents as their doctrinal standard. According to their About page, these two doctrinal standards are the Abstract of Principles, and the Baptist Faith and Message (2000).
Now, I have my own theological concerns about the semi-modalistic phrasing of each of these statements, but those aside… these are the doctrinal statements that Dr Ware is bound to by his employment at SBTS. The question for today’s post is this: Does what Dr Ware has published in the past contradict these two doctrinal statements?
Abstract of Principles – Articles II and III
There is but one God, the Maker, Preserver and Ruler of all things, having in and of Himself, all perfections, and being infinite in them all; and to Him all creatures owe the highest love, reverence and obedience.
III. The Trinity
God is revealed to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit each with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence or being.
Article II articulates a fairly standard statement regarding the divine nature, and by extension all persons who share the divine nature. It states that God (IE all persons who share the divine nature) is the Ruler of all things. Additionally, it states that all creatures owe God the highest love, reverence and obedience.
Article III indicates that while each person has distinct personal attributes, (where Dr Ware would root his model of hypostatic roles of authority and submission) these attributes do not cause a division of nature, essence or being.
I would like to see Dr Ware articulate clearly how it can be that it is true that God the Father reigns supreme over the Son and Spirit, but we also owe the Son highest love, reverence and obedience? The fact that we owe the Son (and Spirit) highest love, reverence and obedience is in light of the fact that he is a partaker of the divine nature. Yet Dr Ware’s published writing in 2005 indicates that the Father reigns supreme, and the glory that the Son receives ultimately belongs to the Father. Furthermore, the Son must equally be the Ruler of all things, since being the Ruler of all things is a feature of the divine nature, thus anyone who shares that divine nature must be equally the Ruler of all things. If the Father is supreme over the Son and Spirit… then how can we say that the Son is ruler of all things. The whole point of what Ware is trying to say is that the Father is the Ruler of the Son and Spirit in the immanent Trinity.
There are two possibilities: First, the phrase Ruler of all things refers to all created things, thus excluding the divine persons from the phrase. Second, the three persons mutually rule over each other. Ware would exclude the later. However, he can not limit this rule to just creatures, because he includes in the Father’s rule both the subjection of the Son and Spirit. So the result is that the Father is the ruler of all things, both created and uncreated, while the Son is the ruler of all things, created and the uncreated Holy Spirit, and the Spirit is the ruler of only the created order.
Even with Dr Ware’s recent clarifications, we still have a situation where the Father is the Ruler of all things in a way that is very different (infinitely different) than the way that the Spirit is the Ruler of all things. Furthermore, in the immanent Trinity (irrespective of creation) the Father is the Ruler of all things and the Spirit is the Ruler of no things. I would like to hear an explanation from Dr Ware or one of his supporters, how this is in alignment with the Abstract of Principles.
Baptist Faith and Message (2000) – Article II
There is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections. God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures. To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience. The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.
Article II of the BFM is a more robust articulation of the same thing covered in Articles II and III of the Abstract of Principles. Having covered in-depth the problems with the idea that the Father is supreme over the Son and Spirit in the immanent Trinity, I will focus on the other aspect of the cited quotes.
Dr Ware has stated that the Father could have acted independently of the Son and Spirit, but chose not to. This is a direct repudiation of the doctrine of divine simplicity. When the Father acts, the Son and Spirit act, because they are one. Not one person, but one God. Thus, the will which is engaged by the Father to act is one and the same will as the one possessed by the Son and Spirit. Even if the only act which the Son and Spirit engage in when the Father acts is to will what the Father has willed, that is still an act. This comes to bear in the BFM when it states that God is all powerful and all knowing. The power which the Father engages to act is one and the same power which the Son and Spirit possess. His natural knowledge of what he will do in time is one and the same knowledge which the Son and Spirit possess. How can it be that the Father could act unilaterally if he is engaging a will, power, and knowledge which is the Son’s and Spirits also? Furthermore, this will, power, and knowledge are not distinct from the very nature, essence, or being which is undivided. In order for the Father to be able to act unilaterally, there must be a division in nature, essence, or being… because the will to act, the power to act, and the knowledge of that act – because of the doctrine of divine simplicity – is the divine nature which is common to all three persons.
Consequences Ought to Have Meaning
As I have demonstrated above, not only has what Dr Ware written in the past violated the Nicene Creed… but it stands in clear contradiction to the BFM which he ostensibly affirms as a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, but additionally to the Abstract of Principles which he is contractually obligated to affirm due to his employment as a professor at SBTS.
What good is it to say “We have this faith statement, our faculty is obligated to uphold it,” if there is an implicit addendum to it which says “but we won’t do anything about it if they don’t.”?