I walked onto UCLA in 2006 with a plan. I knew that at the end of my four years studying physiological science I would go to medical school so that one day I could be a medical missionary. I overlooked one thing, however: “The heart of man plans his ways, but the Lord establishes his steps.” (Prov. 16:9, ESV.) I quickly found that a weakness that was easy for me to cover up in High School would derail my entire plan: I was terrible at math. Calculus and organic chemistry wrecked me, I got grades in those in those classes that I had never seen in my entire life. At that point my academic advisor counseled me to try some other classes out. So I looked through which general education courses I could take to fulfill my graduation requirements and stumbled into a Philosophy of Mind class. I was hooked! The next quarter I decided to take a Medieval Philosophy class. So there I was, studying Augustine, Anselm, Abelard, and Aquinas. I was doing philosophical theology at UCLA! At that point I decided, I want to be a philosopher, so I changed my major and spent the rest of my time at UCLA focused on philosophy…..
Theology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has been marked by two trends. The first is a revival of Trinitarian theology. This trend has attempted to place the Trinity at the center of theology and church life. The second is a turn towards the majority world. It has been well documented that in the 20th century the church experienced explosive growth in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, whereas the “Western church” has dwindled. From this growth in the majority world church we are beginning to witness a shift in how theology on the global stage is being done. In The Trinity Among the Nations: The Doctrine of God in the Majority World, editors Gene L. Green, Stephen T. Pardue, and K. K. Yeo bring these two trends together to produce a volume that “brings the global church to theological dialogue regarding kaleidoscopic understandings of the Trinity” (p. 2).
In light of the whole EFS debate raging on twitter right now – I thought I might add to the discussion some analytic definitions of EFS. Afterall, part of the appeal of analytic theology is the clarity and nuance it brings to what often seem to be muddled theological discussions. So lets put Eternal Functional Equality and Eternal Functional Subordination under the analytic chopping block!
We begin with definitions and distinctions between the two basic positions involved in this debate: 1) Eternal Functional Equality (hereafter EFE) and Eternal Functional Subordination (hereafter EFS). The distinction between these two positions can best be thought of in terms of three different questions concerning 1) nature, 2) duration, 3) application (Gons and Naselli, 2015) Once these questions are answered one clearly sees the distinctions between the two basic positions.
Eternal Functional Equality
One definition of EFE holds that “the Father and Son are completely equal in all contingent ways: all subordination is voluntary, arbitrary, and temporary.” (Gons and Naselli, 2015) However this definition contains elements which not all EFE proponents would hold. For instance, consider the part of the definition about the subordination being arbitrary. This implies that any person of the Trinity could hypothetically be subordinate in temporary ways. As an example consider the incarnation. The incarnation in both EFE and EFS would count as temporal subordination. Including “arbitrary” in the definition of EFE would imply that proponents of EFE would hold that the Father could have hypothetically been incarnate instead of the Son and therefore be temporarily subordinate. This is simply not a view that all proponents of EFE would hold to. Some proponents of EFE might want to say that temporal subordination is not arbitrary. For instance, some proponents of EFE might believe no other persons of the Trinity besides the Son and the Spirit could have be temporally subordinate. Thus we might want to get rid of the part about subordination being arbitrary. Now consider the part about subordination being voluntary. It is not clear what it would mean for one of the persons of the immanent trinity to voluntarily become subordinate. Its is not clear what this would mean because when speaking of the Trinity we speak of the Trinity having one will. Although it is understandable that Gons and Naselli would include “voluntary” as a part of their definition, as to avoid a view that would imply that the Son (or any other person of the Trinity) would be forced into temporal subordination, it is unnecessary to their definition. We might also want to get rid of the part of the definition that includes the part about subordination being temporal. We can get rid of this because this is already implied in the part of the definition about being equal in all non-contingent ways. Even though we have removed many parts of Gons and Naselli’s definition, it is nonetheless a good starting point for defining EFE. The revised definition of EFE ends up something like this:
EFE: The Father and the Son are completely equal in all non-contingent ways: all subordination is economic.
Eternal Functional Subordination
[Note: Bruce Ware, one of the leading proponents of EFS prefers to call it “eternal relational authority submission” as this supposedly avoids the negative connotations that come with the word “subordination.” However for the sake of using language common to most theologians involved in this discussion I will continue to use the term EFS.]
Bruce Ware describes his position by saying “Faithfulness to Scripture requires affirming both the full equality,” up until this point all orthodox Christians would be in agreement. However, he goes on to add “and the eternal authority submission. Equality and distinction must be upheld for Trinitarianism to be true.” All orthodox Christians would agree with the final sentence, yet not all orthodox Christians would agree that the distinction comes through “eternal authority submission.” However we must keep in mind that this is just a preliminary description of this position, Ware gives more clarity regarding his definition of EFS:
This view holds that God reveals himself in Scripture as one God in three persons, such that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are fully equal in their deity as each possesses fully and eternally the one and undivided nature; yet the Father is revealed as having the highest authority among the Trinitarian persons, such that the Son, as agent of the Father, eternally implements the will of the Father and is under the Father’s authority (Ware, 2015)
There are several important parts in this definition: 1) equality in deity, 2) the Father being revealed as the highest authority, 3) the Son existing as an agent under authority, and 4) the Son eternally being under authority implementing the Father’s will. One possible way to make sense of these claims is to say that
2) Soft EFS: In this possible world it is everlastingly true that at times t-tn the son is incarnate and thus functionally and temporally subordinate. (McCall, 2010)
McCall calls this position “Soft EFS.” Under this position the Son is subordinate to the Father during the time of his incarnation and redemptive work, and this is true at all times. McCall notes that this is something that even proponents of EFE would not necessarily object to. He makes this claim by appealing to modal logic. He says that “the proposition the incarnate Son is functionally subordinate at times t–tn, if continently true, is always contingently true.” If it was true at t1 it would be true that it was true at t1 now and forever more. This is clearly not what Ware means, so this simply cannot be what EFS amounts to. We may want to give a thicker account of what EFS amounts to. Using McCall’s language Gons and Naselli give us a definition of a “hard” version of EFS. Thus defining “Hard EFS” as:
3) The Son is eternally and necessarily subordinate to the Father, not in terms of deity, but in his role in relationship to the Father. (Gons and Naselli, 2015)
This is helpful but it still leaves too many ambiguities as to what this position really entails. What do we mean by “eternally?” After all we saw in McCall’s definition that “eternally” might imply different sort of things. What do we mean by “necessarily?” What sort of necessity is McCall talking about? Is this de res or de dicto necessity? Given these ambiguities McCall’s definition is much more helpful:
4) Hard EFS: The Son is functionally subordinate to the Father in all time segments in all possible worlds; there are no time segments in any possible world in which the Son is not subordinate to the Father. (McCall, 2010)
One possible problem with this definition is that it implies that God is temporal. Nevertheless “time” language helps us clarify the fact that we are making a distinction between the immanent Trinity and the economic Trinity. Nevertheless it is clearer than Gons and Naselli’s definition. It is clearer in that it allows us to answer our three questions. In regards to question one, we answer that it is necessary, i.e. it is true in all possible worlds. In regards to question two, it is eternal in the sense that it is not only for a segment of time. Regarding question three, it is purely economic. Now that we have our two definitions (propositions 1 and 4) hopefully discussions about what we mean by EFE and EFS won’t be as muddled.
So who should read this book? I think there are several people who need to read it:
People who don’t believe that evolution and Christianity can be compatible. I recommend this to them, not because they should read this and “believe.” Rather It would be helpful for them to see that genuine Jesus loving Christians can hold to evolutionary theory (whether or not they are correct).
Those who feel the tension in holding their belief in evolutionary theory and robust evangelical faith. Such people need exemplars who can show the way forward in how to hold both views together.
People who’s “last objection” to becoming a Christian is that they need to check their rational-scientific mind at the door when coming to faith in Christ.
So if you fall into any of those categories I would love to give you a copy of the book. To win a copy of the book all you need to do is one of the following:
No, this is not a blog about how I changed my mind about evolution, however it is a blog about a book containing essays from many well known and well respected evangelicals about how they changed their mind about evolution.
This book, edited by Kathryn Applegate and J.B. Stump contains a numerous amount of essays from some significant names like:
James K.A. Smith
Tremper Longman III
Any book with a collection of new essays from authors like those – on any subject would already be incredibly fascinating, let alone on such a contentious subject among evangelicals, like evolution.
Most of the essays in this book are extremely personal, they recount the stories of the contributors’ journey toward accepting evolution as a viable Christian belief about creation. Many of the stories are quite typical, which some readers will find encouraging. The story typically goes something like this: 1)I was taught evolution was a godless, anti-Christian theory. 2) I became very interested in “creation science” in order to defend Christianity. 3) I actually began to learn about science and evolution. 4) I was able to reconcile my faith and this belief. 5)Conclusion: evolution, contrary to what I was taught early on, is not a threat to the faith.
One essay in particular, that I found helpful (no surprise here) in understanding the logic behind most of these “evolutions” in belief about creation, was Oliver Crisp’s essay. In his essay he outlines three principles which have helped him reflect upon how faith connects to evolution. The first is that notion of faith seeking understanding. From a position of faith we are committed to understanding our faith. The second is that all truth is God’s truth. Because God is the creator, not truth will actually be a threat to who God is, so we shouldn’t be afraid to seek truth ruthlessly. Also, this means that in principle our understanding of Scripture and since are compatible, even though we may not yet see how they are compatible. The third is that God is mysterious. Who can fathom God’s ways in providence and creation. He can create in any way he deems necessary.
So who should pick up this book? I think there are several people who need to read it. First, I think that people who don’t believe that evolution and Christianity can be compatible. I recommend this to them, not because they should read this and “believe.” Rather It would be helpful for them to see that genuine Jesus loving Christians can hold to evolutionary theory (whether or not they are correct). Second, those who feel tension in holding their belief in evolutionary theory and robust evangelical faith. Such people need exemplars who can show the way forward in how to hold both views together. Finally, people who’s “last objection” to becoming a Christian is that they need to check their rational-scientific mind at the door when coming to faith in Christ. As Oliver Crisp’s essay so clearly articulates, all truth is God’s truth. If our faith is true, and evolutionary theory is true, then this poses no threat to God whatsoever.
Book Giveaway: I would love to give out a copy of this book to whoever believes it would be helpful to their faith. In order to be eligible to win a copy of this book you can do one of several things (each will constitute one entry).
Last week a group of pastors from across denominations gathered at Fuller Seminary to explore the prospects of analytic theology for pastoral ministry. For many of the pastors there, this was their first exposure to analytic theology; so there was a lot of discussion on what exactly analytic theology is. The colloquium on analytic theology and prayer witnessed serveral presentations from Fuller’s AT team, including Oliver Crisp, Jordan Wessling, and James Arcadi. However my favorite presentation was not by anyone on the
AT team, it was by a pastor from Arizona: Bryan Fergus from Calvary Community Church. Bryan presented on the topic of Analytic theology in pastoral ministry. Here are my notes from his talk.
Why a D.Min?
Conviction that we need more middle men – pastor/theologians who can reach down from the academy from the churches and to reach up from the church to the academy w/issues that really face the church.
How can AT enhance my pastoral ministry?
Thinking this way theologically is good for us who are in the everday business of pastoral ministry.
Characterized by rigorous thinking – this is a good thing!
What are the benefits of AT for our role as pastors?
The precise, rational thinking encouraged by AT facilitates the responsive presentation of truth
Isn’t this an obvious given? Couldn’t we engage in any number of intellectual pursuits that hone these skills?
AT is uniquely equipped to help us with this part
Facilitates the ability to think more critically
Helps us grow in responding to “yeah… but what about this?” when we are preaching
Learn to anticipate the objections
Teach from the pulpit in a more logical and responsive way
AT presents a rational path to the faith that many need in our age of skepticism
AT is well equipped to walk the middle path between rationalistic faith and experiential faith
AT is uniquely equipped to address the “gaps” in our theological understanding.
Even those who affirm the authority of scripture, still have to deal with some “gaps” i.e. hell, why would a good, omnipotent, omniscient God create a world with a possibility of hell. We know THAT but we don’t know WHY or HOW of many things in Scripture work.
AT is friendly for the exploration of these gaps
Why not explore the how/why? Why not invest the same kind of energy we would with friends & family to really get to know God?
The endeavor of of exploring these gaps is an act of worship
Prayer – Petitionary Prayer and “Gaps”
Scripture calls us to pray…
Jesus tells his followers to ask their Heavenly Father for things that are important to them.
Jesus teaches his disciples a model prayer that includes petitions.
Jesus himself prays a prayer of petition.
Why or What difference does PP make?
God is omniscient… how do our petitions change anything if God already knows it happens?
God is perfectly good… why won’t he do the best thing anyway?
God is immutable…. How do our prayers make any difference to what God does?
For the past five years Biola’s Center for Christian thought has been holding conferences which have addressed various big questions, such as: “What is Christian scholarship and how should it influence culture?” “How can psychology shed light on the process of spiritual formation” “What are the chief intellectual virtues that promote civil discourse within societies?” “What is the relationship between neuroscience and the soul?” This year CCT’s annual conference revolved around the question: “What is the meaning of love?”
Gathered at Biola’s beautiful campus on an unusually rainy Southern California weekend a wide variety of theologians, philosophers, pastors, psychologists, and social scientists gathered to see if they could make some progress on a constellation of questions related to the meaning of love. The conference, which was held on May 6th-7th, consisted of eight plenary sessions and twenty four breakout sessions. The contributors came from all over the map. There were presenters from Southern California institutions, including Biola, Fuller Seminary, Pepperdine, and Loyola Marymount among others. Presenters also came from institutions from all over the US, including the University of Kentucky, Texas A&M, Baylor, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Princeton Seminary. The fact that so many of the presenters came from different disciplines and different parts of the country made for quite an interesting experience. This diversity really embodied the CCT’s goal of creating an environment in which Christian scholars from a variety of disciplines can work collaboratively on some of the most important issues of our day.
The Conference – A Summary
The conference was kicked off by philosopher-theologian Thomas Jay Oord. His lecture was quite fitting for an opening lecture of a conference on the meaning of love, as his was the only plenary session which explicitly attempted to give a definition of love. During his lecture Oord defined love by saying, “To Love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to others (including God), to promote overall well being.” He proceeded to unpack the various elements of this definition. The work Oord did in providing a definition of love proved to be quite fruitful as his definition often ended up being a point of discussion in various other plenary and breakout sessions.
Thomas Oord’s lecture was followed by Frances Howard-Snyder’s lecture which was titled “An Ethics of Love and Future Generations.” Here she focused on the second great commandment, “Love Your neighbor as yourself.” She wondered whether this commandment can help us think through the non-identity problem in ethics. Briefly the non-identity problem focuses on the obligations we think we have in respect of people who, by our own acts, are caused both to exist and to have existences that are in some sense unavoidably flawed. Her talk revolved around a thought experiment in which a mother is faced with two choices of 1) conceive a child now, knowing the child will be handicapped or 2) wait to have a child, and know the child will develop without any disabilities. She concluded that an ethic based on the second commandment would allow the mother to follow through with case one. Her conclusions received some intense pushback during the question and answer time, especially from Nicholas Wolterstorff. However, this sort of pushback and discussion embodied CCT’s spirit of civility in the midst of disagreement.
The first two sessions approached the topic from a somewhat philosophical perspective, but the third and fourth sessions approached the issue from the social sciences. Lynn G. Underwood, presented a social science approach to understanding the concept of love. Her lecture focused on research done at a Trappist monastery and the Daily Spiritual Experience Scale, in which four out of the sixteen questions focus explicitly on divine love. Out of her research at the monastery she discovered various practices for strengthening love. Her research on the Daily Spiritual Experience Scale pointed to the fact that those who had higher scores on this scale tended to experience lower burnout rates and tended to report a greater loving attitude towards others. Her findings had some very practical implications for ministers in the audience. Not only did she address some ways to grow in love, but also she addressed some important issues of pastoral burnout.
Bennet Helm’s lecture focused on what he calls “Communities of Respect.” These communities hold each other accountable to certain binding communal norms. His research focused on whether or not this concept of “Communities of Respect” can provide a foundation for an objective morality based on an ethics of care. He provided an argument for how this may be so by turning to Kant who claimed that “concepts without intuitions are empty; intuitions without concepts are blind.” Thus, in Helm’s reading of Kant, the upshot is that objectivity requires grounding of moral theory in experience. Helm’s conclusion seemed to be that the community’s understanding of what ethics of care looks like will be grounded in that community’s conceptual schemes. After the lecture, some concerns were raised as to whether Helm had read Kant correctly and whether this account can actually provide a robust account of objectivity that Helm seemed to be after.
The final plenary session of the first day happened immediately after a dinner reception in which the attendees were served a delicious full course meal. Here Nicholas Woltersorff built upon earlier research on the relationship between love as beneficence and justice by turning to the relationship between love as attraction and justice. Love as attraction and justice are two modes of acknowledging embedded goodness. Thomas Aquinas defines beautiful things as those which please when they are seen or heard. Thus, For Aquinas beauty is a recognition of the embedded goodness of a thing. Thus, Wolterstorff made the connections and argued that in a way, attraction and justice are intimately related to recognizing the beauty of a thing.
Saturday morning’s first session was kicked off by Princeton theologian George Hunsinger. With what might have been the most creative plenary session, Hunsinger compared the work of J.R.R. Tolkien with that of Karl Barth. One would be hard pressed to find other scholarly work making this sort of comparison. The lecture began with an explanation of Barth’s account of agape. Barth’s definition of God’s agape includes four elements: 1) a concern for fellowship, 2) a disregard for aptitude or worthiness in the object of love, 3) it is an end in itself, and 4) it is necessary. He then turned to the mystery of evil in Barth and Tolkien. He pointed out the affinities between Barth’s account of evil as das Nichtige (Nothingness) and Tolkien’s description of the Witch King of Angmar – the Lord of the Nazgul in The Lord of the Rings. Both the Witch King of Angmar and das Nichtige are conflicted and absurd, actual and empty, a symbol of an impossible possibility. The defeat of both of these elements cannot be divorced from longsuffering, which is a crucial aspect of agape.
The final two plenary sessions were delivered by Stephen Post and Alan Tjeltveit. Post argued that a recognition of the image of God in every human being can provide the basis for the practice of agape love toward those whom he called “the deeply forgetful” i.e. those with dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc. Post drew upon his experiences to give real life examples of what it would look like to show love towards this particular group of people. Tjeltveiet showed how a two-way interaction between psychological research and theological insights can shed light on issues which impede love and provide practices which can help provoke love towards others. These practices include being careful how we use the word love, training our emotions, choosing our social contexts wisely, developing empathy, choosing to perceive the worth and goodness of others through God’s eyes, and finally, but perhaps most importantly, allowing God’s grace to develop the virtue of love within us.
In addition to these plenary lectures there were a number of breakout sessions. These breakout sessions covered a wide variety of topics including: medieval theology of love, non-violence and love, definitions of love, love and technology, biblical accounts of love, and philosophical perspectives on love. Most of these breakout sessions were marked by quality presentations of original research and lively discussion after each paper.
Some Thoughts About the Conference…
This was my first time at a Center for Christian Thought conference, but suffice it to say that I walked away from it very impressed. First, the environment was excellent, and I’m not just talking about the venues for the main sessions and the breakout sessions, though they were superb. I’m talking about the tone and feel of the conference. The environment was collegial. There was a real sense that everyone present was there to support one another’s work and research. Though at times some of the responses were critical, they were always critical for the purpose of building up. The environment was productive. Some of the presenters that I talked to really felt as though they received really good constructive feedback during the sessions which will help them improve their work. Also, some new lines of research were opened up for some of the participants. One could hear chatter during the breaks about future lines of research on the subject of love. Finally, the environment was fun. That isn’t usually what you expect from an academic conference, but it was fun nevertheless. There was a sort of lightheartedness that pervaded most of conference. Whether it was Thomas Oord or Nicholas Wolterstorff’s jokes, discussions at lunch over gourmet sandwiches and salads, or the root beer float reception at the end, the conference was quite enjoyable.
But more than being a great environment for the conference, another feature of the weekend that stood out to me was the strength of most of the presentations. Naturally there were a few that were not as impressive (including a couple of the plenary sessions), but most of them did what good research does, i.e. they presented original ideas and/or further lines for future research. A few that stood out to me as being especially strong where Thomas Jay Oord, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and Alan Tjeltveit’s lectures. In my opinion each of these lecturers embodied what the CCT is all about. They were doing serious Christian scholarship which will have further implications for not only the church but for society in general.
Overall, I came to the end of this conference with the opinion that more of these kinds of conferences need to happen. We need more rigorous Christian scholarship that has an eye towards serving the world and the church. We need more opportunities for scholars who take their faith seriously to interact with others who share the same goal if doing scholarship for the sake of the world. We need more venues for this sort of scholarship to happen and to flourish. Although it was my first time at this conference, I see that Biola has a good thing going with the Center for Christian Thought. I look forward to seeing what they have in store for the community of Christian scholars next year.