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Trinity Debate on the Trinity

I’m not on the Trinity campus this year, so I didn’t realize it until tonight, but there was a debate on the nature of the Trinity at the Trinity campus tonight.  (HT: Phil Gons)  I only caught the last half hour, which was just questions from the audience.  It was done in streaming video here.  I hope they will post the entire video, but I can’t seem to find where it will be if it is.

The debate was between, on one side, Keith Yandell (whom I’ve had as a visiting prof at Trinity) and Tom McCall (a Trinity prof I’ve not had yet, but hope to get before I leave); and on the other side was Wayne Grudem (who taught at Trinity several years ago) and Bruce Ware.  The topic was, “Do relations of authority and submission exist eternally among the Persons of the Godhead?”  Grudem and Ware argued that they do; Yandell and McCall argued that they don’t.  In other words, Grudem and Ware argued that the Father has authority over the Son and the Spirit eternally; Yandell and McCall argued that the authority of the Father is only in the economy of salvation, but not in eternity.  Ware pointed out that Yandell and McCall run the risk of becoming functional modalists – that is, they don’t really acknowledge the differences between the persons of the Trinity.  (In reality, I think most Evangelicals are functional modalists, but that’s beside the point.)  Ware and Grudem, on the other hand, are on the verge of slipping into subordinationism, where Jesus and the Spirit are not quite God in the same way as the Father.

Yandel ended by saying that his colleagues in the philosophy department at Madison would view the whole debate as foolishness, the modern equivalent of debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  His point was to say that the two positions are not really that far apart.  I tend to agree.  Here I am trying to figure out why a belief in the Trinity is even important.  I just flash back to the forth and fifth centuries when guys were duking it out about these things in order to score political points with the Emperor.

All in all, this was a very different debate than the one last Spring between Harold Netland and Paul Knitter.  That debate was between an Evangelical and a theological Liberal over the question of whether Christians can believe that non-Christian religions can be salvific.  In that debate, Knitter clearly appeared uncomfortable in with an audience that he knew agreed with his opponent.  He qualified almost every statement he made and back-peddled on every point that mattered.  It was a very different kind of event.  Tonight in contrast was an ‘in house’ debate.  The trade off, it seems, was that it was dramatically more lacking in relevance.

I don’t care.  I love this stuff.  I just reminds me how much it sucks not having money to take classes this semester.  😦

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