Explainer: Divine Simplicity and the Trinitarian Controversy

Today I’m pleased to run this helpful guest post from my friend Andrew Fulford. Given the confusion that has surrounded the recent trinitarian debate, I thought it would be useful to find someone who could write a relatively straight forward post explaining the different terms being tossed around in this debate so far. So this post is going to be a Vox-style explainer answering some of the basic questions that have come up due to the controversy.

What is divine simplicity?

If you have followed the recent upheaval over the Trinity and gender, you may have asked yourself that question. This doctrine was once taken for granted by basically everyone, from the earliest days of the church through to the Reformation and beyond, and only became unfamiliar quite recently. I’m not going to be able to explain all the details of the idea here. My objective is twofold: to give a basic outline of the idea, and to explain why the tradition of classical Christian theism held to it. Continue reading

The Trinity Debate and “Big Eva”

I had hoped that the big Trinitarian brouhaha was starting to calm down to more of a restrained, tightly defined level. Then Dr. Al Mohler waded into the debate yesterday, calling attacks on his friends Drs. Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem “nonsense” without ever bothering to actually engage with the substance of Carl Trueman, Liam Goligher, Mark Jones, Alastair Roberts, Michel Barnes, Matthew Crawford, Lewis Ayres, Fred Sanders, or Matthew Emerson’s actual arguments. Apparently it only takes one dismissive wave of the hand by someone as prominent as Mohler to dismiss the careful argumentation of a half dozen leading authorities in patristics or dogmatics. Continue reading

Why the Trinitarian Controversy Was Inevitable

Recently, there has been a major clash in the Reformed and evangelical blogosphere on the doctrine of the Trinity. While others have covered the ins and outs of the controversy with some depth, I am more interested in why this clash is happening, and why it is happening now. Michael Bird has said that this is about to be a “miniature civil war”. While that may be an exaggeration, the clash was inevitable for several reasons. Continue reading

Christianity and Hellenism, Part 2 of 3: On Being, Loosely Speaking

In my last post, I asserted that the early Christians made discriminating use of the ideas and methods of Greek philosophy. The key terms and categories were carefully reshaped and turned towards biblical ends. If old Plato was baptized in early Christian thought, it was only because he was generally catechized and exhorted first.

I mentioned that I have seen simplistic claims about the influence of Greek philosophy from all corners. An example: I was sitting in on a session at a major, mainstream academic conference. One presenter was discussing the concept of the canon, and the importance of heeding the timeless truths of the creeds of the early Ecumenical Councils. During Q&A, one presumably learned gentleman stood up and said, essentially, “I see no timeless truths in the Nicene Creed alongside all the Neo-Platonist imagery.”

Now, our esteemed anonymous questioner was probably exaggerating. But still, on the surface, he seems to have a point. Continue reading

*The Deep Things of God* Giveaway

Update:  The contest is now closed.  If you didn’t get an email, alas, you didn’t win. However, watch this space for more giveaways in the near future of equally provocative booksAnd make sure you buy a copy or two of Dr. Sanders’ book anyway.  You will not be disappointed.

My friend and mentor Fred Sanders’ new book, The Deep Things of God:  How the Trinity Changes Everything, comes out on August 31st, and it’s a doozy.

I’ve argued that Dr. Sanders is one of evangelicalism’s brightest theological lights, and this book is going to prove me right.  Whether you’re a pastor, a layman, or even just a guy who wants a better understanding of Christianity’s central doctrine, this is an absolute must-read.

Here was my blurb:

There simply aren’t enough superlatives to describe how important and timely this book is.  Sanders demonstrates how the Trinity is at the heart of the Gospel and the foundation of the Christian life, and makes his case by bringing forward distinctly evangelical voices.

But this is no book of abstract theology:  Sanders’ work is lively, engaging, and accessible.  He brings the Trinity out of the cloistered walls of academia and into the living room, explaining in terms anyone can understand that we are immersed in the reality of the Triune God. There is no better guide I know of to explore the deep things of God than this book, and it deserves a wide and serious hearing by pastors, theologians, and laymen alike.

In short:  Buy it.  Read it.

Or, win it. I’ve never done a giveaway before, and I wouldn’t if I wasn’t really excited about the book.  But I am, and Crossway was kind enough to give me three copies to give to giveaway.
There are eight different ways to enter:
  1. Subscribe by RSS or Email.
  2. Become a “fan” of Mere-O on Facebook.
  3. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter, “Mere-O Monthly.”
  4. Link to this post from your blog or your Facebook page.
  5. Follow me on Twitter.
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  7. Friend me on Facebook.
  8. Leave a comment with your favorite contemporary musician (because I’m looking to expand my repertoire).

If you do 1, 2, 3, or 4 leave a separate comment here for each one.

Next Monday I’ll choose three winners from the combined pool of those who leave comments here, retweet this, and follow me on Twitter.  Thanks for entering, and spread the word.

A Decadent Doctrine of Salvation

One of my favorite moments in The Deep Things of God is Sanders’ explication of what happens when a culture becomes decadent.  He writes:

“Inhabitants of a decadent culture feel themselves to be living among the scraps and fragments of something that must have made sense to a previous generation but which now seem more like a pile of unrelated items. Decadent cultures feel unable to articulate the reasons for connecting things to each other. They spend a lot of time staring at isolated fragments, unable to combine them into meaningful wholes.”

There are, according to Sanders, two responses to this fragmentation:  one that is conservative, which collects the fragments and treats them as “museum pieces,” and a liberal response that tosses the fragments aside.

That’s an illuminating cultural analysis in itself.  But Sanders applies it theologically, arguing that the fragmentation in our understanding of salvation is actually a manifestation of evangelicalism’s decadent theological culture.  Again, Sanders:

“Is Christian salvation forgiveness, a personal relationship with Jesus, power for moral transformation, or going to heaven? It is all of those and more, but a true account of the thing itself will have to start with the living whole if we ever hope to make sense of the parts. Just think how tricky it is to combine free forgiveness and moral transformation in an organic way if what you are starting with is the individual parts. A dreary back-and-forth between cheap grace and works-righteousness is one of the bedeviling distractions of evangelical experience under the conditions of decadence.”

The solution is, no surprise, an understanding of the Gospel that reaches behind the fragments and sees the whole, which is that God has given himself to us for our salvation.  As Sanders puts it, “The gospel is that God is God for us, that he gives himself to be our salvation. In this sense, as John Piper has said in a series of meditations on God’s love as the gift of himself: “God is the gospel.” He does not give us some thing that makes us blessed, but he blesses us by giving us himself.”

It is only in the Triune life of God that our decadent views of salvation will find both unity and coherence.

There’s still time to enter to win one of three copies, if you haven’t already.  I’ll pick names on Monday.