This We Deny Against the Trinitarians

If you’ve been following the controversy surrounding Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem, you’ve noted that the salvo of articles seems to have slowed down a little. If I indulge myself in a small bit of speculation, it is because Dr Ware’s recent Open Letter is quite lengthy and people are taking time to formulate appropriate responses. I was discussing this letter with a peer this morning and noted something that I think is another significant point of departure from Nicene Orthodoxy.

First, I want to reaffirm that Dr Ware’s “clarification” here did no such thing. In some places his clarification amounts to a strangely liberal way to approach words. Simply saying that you meant something other than what the words clearly mean, claiming imprecision, and blaming your readers for misunderstanding you… is a classic liberal move. It is strange coming from someone teaching at a bastion of conservative theology is a bit jarring.

However, I want to focus on another inconsistency. Last week, I focused on the explicit denial of divine simplicity (via an explicit denial of the doctrine of inseparable operations) present in Dr Ware’s response. This week I want to focus on something that is more implicit, but just as destructive.

After claiming that Todd Pruitt took him out of context, Dr Ware makes an extended quotation from his book. This quotation affirms the equality of the nature held by each person of the Trinity, and affirms that the divine nature is both one and undivided. However, beyond affirming those things it amounts to an extended way to say “I’m talking about the Father as a person specifically.”

As a side note, we’re not idiots. We know he was talking about the Father as a person. None of us thought that Dr Ware thought he was talking about the nature of the Father, and that’s part of the problem.

You see, there are three interrelated concepts that are important here. Ousia (nature), Hypostasis (person), and perichoresis. The Ousia is the way that God is one, and it is a simple, singular, and unified thing which is fully shared, participated in, and expressed by each person. The Hypostases are the way that God is three, and they are distinct, discernible, and concrete entities who fully share, participate in, and express the one nature. Perichoresis is the concept which makes those two things coherent, without it you do not have a doctrine of the Trinity.

However, we should not think of the ousia and person as separate things. A person is their nature. The nature of the Father, and the Person of the Father, are fully unified. They are one thing. To divide them is to violate divine simplicity. So, let me permit Dr Ware to set the stakes for this discussion.

The context, then, for discussing the supremacy of the Father has nothing to do with a supposed supremacy of the Father’s nature—which, then, indeed would be Arianism or some variant form of heresy.

Dr Ware himself agrees that if there is a situation where the Father’s nature is supreme over the Son’s nature, that the result would be Arianism or some variant form of heresy.

When we read a little bit further though, we end up in a somewhat embarrassing situation for Dr Ware.

So, does the Father have a kind of supremacy of personal relations that is not a supremacy of nature? Is he rightfully the recipient of ultimate glory that attaches to his personhood and work, not to the one and undivided divine nature he commonly possesses with the Son and Spirit and not in a way that diminishes the fully shared glory of Father, Son, and Spirit in the immanent Trinity? I believe the answer to these questions from Scripture is, yes.

Do you see what Dr Ware just did? There is a supremacy that the persons have in light of their persons, and there is a supremacy that the persons have in light of their nature, and these supremacies are different things.

That is a violation of divine simplicity friends. Because God is simple, you cannot separate the persons from the nature. So right there, explicitly, we have a repudiation of divine simplicity. The Father is a composite according to Ware. One part natural glory, one part personal glory.

Beyond that, this has implications for the doctrine of immutability. God receives further glory, which is part of his person, which is a result of his works. That’s a change in God.

Beyond that, if Dr Ware wants to deny what I have said above about the implications here regarding divine simplicity… then what do we have left? If personal supremacy and natural supremacy are one thing, then we have a problem: The Father’s personal/natural supremacy are greater than the Son’s personal/natural supremacy. The Father’s and Son’s personal/natural supremacy are greater than the Spirit’s personal/natural supremacy. As Dr Ware said… that would be Arianism or some variant form of heresy.

The way to resolve this is the immanent / economic distinction, which is a constant source of confusion for the EFS lobby. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit share a singular divine natural glory, which Dr Ware is quick to affirm. However, the do not have individual glories in addition to that (they cannot, due to divine simplicity). Rather, just as they each will in particular modes according to their person, they are glorious in particular modes according to their persons. This glory is then manifested in particular ways ad extra as they act toward creation.

Maybe that is what Dr Ware meant. Perhaps we will see in time that he thinks he could have been more precise with his wording.