Retrieving eternal generation

Fred Sanders and Scott R. Swain’s “Retrieving Eternal Generation”
Fred Sanders and Scott R. Swain’s Retrieving Eternal Generation is an important book for the church. It’s a theologically conservative voice of reason in a modern debate against new theological arguments: social trinitarianism and egalitarianism on one side and eternal functional subordination (a.k.a. eternal relations of authority and submission) (EFS/ERAS) on the other hand. Sanders and Swain and their excellent panel of authors enter into the fray with a clarion call to reaffirm the universal historical position of the church on the relations of origin between the trinitarian persons and the eternal generation of the Son in particular.

I’ll cut right to the chase: the book is worth the price for Charles Lee Irons’s chapter alone. He argues very convincingly for the historical translation of the Greek μονογενής (monogenēs) as “only begotten” over and against the more recent scholarly consensus “only one of its/his kind”. While this doesn’t by itself prove eternal generation, it sets our minds greatly at ease that “generation” is at least an appropriate Bible word to use for the eternal “from-ness” or “of-ness” of the Son.

Though Irons’s chapter is arguably the most important contribution, I was pleased to find something valuable and convincing in every single chapter. I can’t mention them all here, but I particularly enjoyed Swain’s chapter on divine names, D.A. Carson’s chapter on John 5:26, Lewis Ayres’s chapter on the writings of Origen, Keith E. Johnson’s chapter on the writings of Augustine, Mark Makin’s chapter on philosophical models of eternal generation, and Sanders’s chapter on eternal generation and soteriology.

I commend the book to anyone looking to deepen and sharpen their understanding of trinitarian theology, and especially those who aren’t sure whether to hold onto or ditch the traditional relations of origin in light of some new idea like social trinitarianism, egalitarianism, or EFS/ERAS. I was more or less persuaded by the EFS/ERAS view but I’m happy to report reading this book has brought me squarely back into the classical eternal generation camp. And that it changed one’s mind is, perhaps, the highest praise one can give to any book. 

Why do we baptize infants?

A review of Daniel Hyde’s book “Jesus Loves the Little Children: Why We Baptize Children”
“Jesus Loves the Little Children” by Daniel Hyde
“Jesus Loves the Little Children” by Daniel Hyde

When we joined a Presbyterian church in 2011, my wife and I were faced with the decision of whether to baptize our children or to be “conscientious objectors” to the Reformed doctrine of infant baptism. I dedicated myself to a study of the question over the next two years, reading many book-length treatments of the issue from both credobaptist and pedobaptist perspectives, as well as chapters on the subject from many systematic theologies on both sides.

At the end of those two years, I had become persuaded of the covenantal infant baptism position, but felt there was no single concise, accessible, and convincing resource on the topic to which I could point inquiring friends and family. I had even set out to write a book about it myself—I may still finish it some day—but then I discovered Daniel Hyde’s Jesus Loves the Little Children: Why We Baptize Children.

Hyde hits all the right notes in under 100 pages (in fact, the core of his argument fits in under 40 pages). He does a great job demonstrating the implications of covenant for the issue of baptism and the connection between the two important covenant signs of circumcision and baptism. I especially appreciated his section showing why anyone who believes in baby dedication should affirm infant baptism instead.

On the whole, this is the best single resource I know of for understanding covenantal infant baptism, and the irenic and winsome tone throughout makes me comfortable sharing it with friends and family of all backgrounds. This is the book I wish I had read first.

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I read a book this week quite by accident. I had purchased the Amazon Kindle edition of this book when it was on sale last fall, knowing I would read it eventually, but hadn’t touched it since then. But the topic of this book was relevant to something I was studying this week, so I picked it up with every intention of just thumbing through it for a few nuggets of info. Instead, I ended up reading it from cover to cover in about three days. For some reason this book was a page-turner for me on the same level as thrillers like Jurassic Park or The DaVinci Code. The weird part is it’s a non-fiction theology book.

Now, I suppose it’s not that weird that I would enjoy a book about theology. It is, after all, one of my favorite subjects to read. But generally it does take me some effort to maintain focus on any one book. There’s a reason I read them; I usually get a lot of educational value out of them, but they don’t usually grip me the way this book gripped me. This book captivated my interest until the very last page; I couldn’t put it down.

The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything The book is Fred Sanders’s The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. It is essentially a wake-up call to evangelical Christianity that we need to bring the Trinity back into the center of our doctrine and practice. Sanders’s thesis is that the Trinity is the gospel, and if we want to make the gospel central (something evangelicals have historically been very good at) we’ve got to make the Trinity central (something Sanders argues evangelicals should be very good at, but paradoxically aren’t). He succeeds in defending this thesis, and opened my eyes to the reality of the nature of God and how God reveals that nature to us in that God the Father sent the Son and the Holy Spirit so that, though their work, we can be reconciled to God and have an intimate share in the eternal fellowship of the Trinity.

I think one of the reasons this book engaged me so is how relevant many of its themes are to things that have happened or are currently happening in my life. Take, for instance, one of the first conversations I ever had with Janene about Mormonism and Christianity. I was explaining to her why I believed, as a Latter-day Saint, that I could become a god some day. I told her it was because when I imagined the historical Christian concept of a God all alone in the beginning, before he had created anything, I imagined that kind of God would be very lonely and unhappy. He could create a worm or an ant, but he wouldn’t be able to have real fellowship or love with the worm or ant. He could create a chicken or a dog or a cow or a monkey and still not experience real fellowship. The only way he could find happiness and fulfillment would be to create another being of the same species as himself. I remember she explained to me then that God wasn’t lonely in the beginning. God, the three persons of the Trinity, had experienced perfect love, fellowship, and companionship from all eternity, and didn’t need to create a race of gods to find fulfillment.

Here’s Sanders on this topic:

Creation was not required, not mandatory, not exacted from God, neither by any necessity imposed from outside nor by any deficit lurking within the life of God. The Bible does not directly answer the question, Why did God create anything at all? but it does let us know what some of the most glaringly wrong answers to that question would be. It would be wrong to say that God created because he was lonely, unfulfilled, or bored. God is free from that kind of dependence.

And further:

In Susanna [Wesley]’s Trinitarian worldview, the eternal Son has eternally existed alongside the eternal Father, always receiving the full goodness of divinity from him. The world, therefore, does not have to bear the burden of being God’s eternal recipient of self-giving goodness. To put it another way, unless the Son were the eternal recipient of the Father’s self-giving, the world would be metaphysically necessary to the being of God. The point Susanna made here has also been seen by numerous thinkers. The Baptist theologian Augustus H. Strong (1836–1921) put it this way: “Neither God’s independence nor God’s blessedness can be maintained upon grounds of absolute unity. Anti-Trinitarianism almost necessarily makes creation indispensable to God’s perfection, tends to a belief in the eternity of matter, and ultimately, leads . . . to pantheism.”

And still further:

It is unworthy to think that God without us is lonely or bored. God is not looking for something to do in the happy land of the Trinity. God did not create the world in order to fill the drafty mansion of heaven with the pitter-patter of little feet. God is not pining away for companionship in a lonesome heaven. Good theological reflection, taking its lead from the Bible, would always reject the idea of divine loneliness or boredom. But as soon as you entertain the truth of the doctrine of the ontological Trinity, the unworthiness of the idea of a lonely or bored God becomes patently obvious. The triune God is one, but not solitary.

The reason for my believing I could be a god one day is that I did not believe in the Trinity. It’s that simple. And when I came to believe in the Trinity, it changed everything, just as Sanders says it does in his sub-title. What’s more, as I’ve thought back to that conversation with Janene ten years ago, I’ve never thought of it as a conversation about the gospel. I thought of it as a conversation about the nature of God that needed to happen to prepare me to hear the gospel. What this book taught me, however, is that God himself is the gospel. If God is dependent on the world in order to further his own glorification and perfection, then nothing we get is ever truly undeserved mercy and grace; it’s what God needs to do, not what he freely and benevolently chooses to do. The idea that God doesn’t need the world (cf. Acts 17:24-25) is the very thing that makes both creation and redemption such amazing grace, and that is 100% gospel. So it turns out Janene was preaching the gospel to me all those years ago, and it was the gospel that got through to me in that conversation, even though it’s taken me ten years to realize that was the gospel.

And that’s just one example of how I found this book relevant to my life. This post is already too long for me to share further examples. I can’t recommend this book enough to any evangelical who wants to regain a clear focus on the Trinity in their theology, evangelism, and everyday Christian living. 

Christian basics

I just finished a couple of great books: Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know by Wayne Grudem and Basic Christianity by John R.W. Stott.

Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know

If I had to choose one of these books over the other, I think it would be Christian Beliefs. It follows the same major topics as most full-blown theology texts, and, in fact, is a condensation of Grudem’s 528 page Bible Doctrine, which is itself a condensation of Grudem’s 1,296 page Systematic Theology. As such, there is a wealth of information packed into this svelte volume. I especially found the Westminster Catechism, the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy, and the ancient Christian creeds in the back of the book to be a nice touch. Grudem also provides a list of roughly 45 books for additional study from a variety of perspectives. I can’t think of a better, more easily digestible introduction to Christian theology than this book, and have already recommended it to several friends and others who have inquired about what I believe.

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