Scripture and the People of God

Hot off the press, a brand new volume boasting 19 essays in honor of Dr. Wayne Grudem has hit the shelves of bookstores from Crossway. Scripture and the People of God is not merely a dedication to Grudem and his labor as a theological academic, but is an exposition of various doctrines in honor of him. The emphasis is in the title––Scripture. It’s composed of three parts: systematic theology, biblical theology, and pastoral ministry. Each of these sections have numerous chapters which are actually essays written by different authors. From the doctrine of the Trinity by Vern Poythress (p. 65) to homiletics by Kent Hughes (p. 265), this volume is packed full of doctrinal conversation.

Now, I wasn’t particularly fond of what I saw reading through this book. Not only do I think the price of the book is way too high, but there are two rather serious doctrinal issues which I will discuss as well.

It’s Priced at a Whopping $55.00 on Both Amazon and Crossway

Maybe it’s me, but 384 pages made up of essays from different people hardly warrants this kind of cost––even if it is a hardcover. There are books in which scholars have poured their blood, sweat, and tears, brainstorming, appropriating research from primary and secondary sources, etc., which cost much less. Some of these types of books are even longer than this one. Though this may be a petty complaint, students and laypeople often do not have the money to spend on books of this nature; and this leads into my next point.

The Doctrinal Sketches Were Dissappointing

I’m not sure whether or not to call this a scholarly work. I mean, it is a “scholarly” work in the sense it was written by scholars and even has some footnotes. It’s comprised of a bunch of essays, but its stated goal is tributary. It showcases doctrine relevant to the work of a theologian. But, even though it might not be a scholarly work, there is really no excuse for the imprecision presented in places like Dr. John Frame’s chapter on the self-attestation of Scripture. Moreover, the book was a homage––instead of a recantation––to an incorrect view of the Trinity. Allow an example:

Dr. Bruce Ware writes:

Here, as elsewhere, while Grudem is conversant with the historical development of the doctrine––indeed, he appeals to it at important points along the way––his endeavor is to uncover the vast array of biblical teachings that call for understanding the triune persons as (1) absolutely coequal in their deity as fully and eternally God and (2) distinct in their persons as eternal Father, Son, and Spirit, evidencing distinct roles marked, among other things, by an eternal relation of authority and submission within the Godhead.[1]

This is extremely unsettling. I have written an academic paper concerning precisely this construal of the doctrine of the Trinity. Historically, there has been a distinction made between God as He is in Himself, that is, ad intra, and God as He has revealed Himself to us, or ad extra. The way in which God has revealed Himself to us is not univocally conversant with what He is in Himself. What do I mean? What we know about God, we know analogically. Point being––finite minds cannot comprehend the infinite. We know that in God there is something like knowledge, power, love, etc. However, as creatures, we can only relate these things in a creaturely way. We only have experience of creaturely knowledge, creaturely power, and creaturely love. God is not creature, He is Creator. Thus, we do not know God univocally, and we do not know God equivocally (we know something of Him), we know Him analogically.

The problem here is that Ware speaks as if there is no ad intra/ad extra distinction. He says the Persons in Triune relationship have “an eternal relation of authority and submission within the Godhead.” It’s not merely a redemptive or economic relationship of subordination, but an eternal subordinationism. This model of Trinitarianism goes even further so as to imply multiple wills in the Godhead. Ware goes on:

Whereas the Father commands and the Son obeys, the Father send and the Son goes, the Father wills and the Son carries out the will of the Father, never do we see the reverse. Where does the Son send and the Father go? Where does the Son will and the Father carry out the will of the Son? Interestingly, we do see the Son send, and the Son will, but the one whom he sends and the one who carries out his will is never the Father, but is the Holy Spirit (e.g., John 15:26; 16:12-15).[2]

As I mention in my above-linked paper, there is a significant issue presented to the reader at this point. In a historical construal of the incarnation, the eternal Son of God is said to take on a human nature, and with it, a human will. So, the Person of the Son is now hypostatically united to a human nature and, in virtue of that hypostasis, has a human will (since a will is part of a human nature).

However, Ware, Grudem, and others attribute will to Person rather than nature. It’s the Persons of the Godhead who have wills, or so it is thought. On this model, the implications on the incarnation are massively destructive. If the Son took into union with Himself a human nature and not another human person (e.g. Nestorianism), then––on Ware’s model––how could Christ have a human will since will is a property of person and not nature? But if Christ does not have a human will, how are the wills of sinners redeemed?

There is one way we could solve this problem, and it would be to violate the historical doctrine of the incarnation and affirm Nestorianism; that would be to say, Christ took on a human person, not just a human nature. Or, we could simply say that there are three distinct natures in the Godhead, in which case Tri-theism would be affirmed (three distinct gods). The only way to be logically consistent with Ware and Grudem’s model is to fall into some kind heresy. But, Ware affirms the unity of the divine nature when he writes, “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are coequal and coeternal, since each person possesses fully and eternally the one and undivided divine nature.”[3]

Upon final analysis, Ware and Grudem’s doctrine of the Trinity is incoherent and lends itself to some serious theological errors. There are more arguments against this position, both biblical and systematic, but I will let it rest here.

Dr. John Frame Paves the Way to Fideism in Chapter 2

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophyfideism is defined as thus, “[Fideism] answers that faith is in some sense independent of, if not outright adversarial toward, reason.” I have personally conversed with Frame in writing concerning these very issues, and he still seems unable (or unwilling) to revise his position.

For Frame, the doctrine of Scripture’s self-attestation entails we argue circularly for it’s veracity. He doesn’t merely say Scripture self-evidences itself, he does say that, but he says a bit more than that as well. He begins by using the Westminster Confession of Faith as an apologetic resource (p. 53, 58). This, itself, is problematic since the Puritans who framed that Confession would have made a distinction between reason and articles of faith, as well as a distinction between general revelation and special revelation. They would have also affirmed the use of reason in recognizing an innate and acquired natural theology. The Confession enumerates the articles of the Christian faith, not philosophical nuances and methodological instructions. But, more than this, I believe he misuses the Confession as it relates to article VI.

Frame quotes the entirety of this passage which says:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word: and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.[5]

To this point in the Confession, Frame writes, “Some have also appealed to ‘faith and life’ as a way to limit the scope of revelation. But there is no reason to think the confession should be read in this way. Faith is what we believe, and life is what we do.”[6] The problem here is that Frame is interpreting the Confession synchronically, which is to become anachronistic. We need to interpret the Confession diachronically, making an attempt to understand the original intent of the authors. This paragraph, however, is obviously about worship, and for the Puritans, “faith” referred to what the Church was to believe (i.e. articles of the faith), and “life” is to be understood in terms of our worship, or what the Church does as the Church. Scripture, after all, does not teach us how to use the tool of logic. It first assumes logic as well as the reader’s ability to use it.

So, Scripture itself assumes we engage in reasoning in order to apprehend what it says. Now, every serious theologian since the earliest years of the Church’s inception would say that our reason is a product of natural (or general) revelation rather than special revelation. In other words, it’s a created thing and has been made to observe the world God created. Frame speaks to general revelation saying:

A problem arises here. If the precepts of Scripture, even in worship, must be supplemented by precepts from outside Scripture (that is, from general revelation), how is Scripture sufficient? The answer, I think, is that Scripture itself authorizes us to make such a use of general revelation.[7]

This is perhaps the most surprising thing Frame said. We are already using general revelation before we come to Scripture. We are utilizing the laws of logic, our reason, our sense perception, etc., in order to make the words of Scripture intelligible. It makes no sense, therefore, to say we should use general revelation because Scripture says we should. Moreover, Frame implies that this notion of using general revelation in concordance with Scripture is akin to us admitting Scripture is insufficient in one area or another. But this would only be true if Scripture was intended, by God, to direct us in every single thing, unqualifiedly. Sufficiency is, no doubt, linked to teleology or purpose.

Scripture is sufficient insofar as what God has intended it to accomplish. Scripture’s goal is not to teach us math, physics, or even basic logic. It’s purpose is to reveal God’s plan of redemption unto salvation in Christ Jesus. This, however, does not mean that what it says about the natural world is fallible. It isn’t. What it says about anything and everything is infallibly true. It is the holy and inspired Word of God. But God has provided us with a twofold revelation: general and special. God has intended both to serve their own complimentary purposes.

What Frame has done is pave a way to fideism. We need not give reason for why we believe the truth of Scripture, it is ultimately thought. It is what it says it is, and that settles it. Frame implies this by placing Scripture as the basis for our use of general revelation. For one, this is incoherent as shown above; for two, it leaves one without a defense for the hope that is in them (1 Pet. 3:15); and for three, it gives the unbeliever an excuse (since it begs the question) contra Romans 1:18-20.

Closing Thoughts

I want to thank Crossway for sending me the review copy of Scripture and the People of God. It has given me the opportunity to address some serious points of discussion whirling about upon today’s theological landscape. I do believe the book is too expensive for what it is, but this is a minor concern in light of the two latter problems I have (hopefully) presented cogently.

Ware and Grudem’s construal of the doctrine of the Trinity is false. There are many reasons for this but, mostly, it has to do with the implications on theology proper and the doctrine of the incarnation. Either God has three separate natures, which would be the heresy of Tri-theism, or the Son of God has no human will (meaning our wills are not redeemed) or He took into union with Himself not a human nature but a human person (Nestorianism). For these reasons, Ware and Grudem’s model ought to be hastily rejected. I mentioned how there are other arguments, but those I gave should suffice for the purposes of this article.

Frame has paved a way to fideism, meaning he has removed all rationale in the apologetic task by making Scripture the antecedent to our use of general revelation. If we have to appeal to Scripture before we are allowed to reason about truth claims (reason falling under general revelation itself), then we beg the question and provide no justification for what we believe.

I believe this book was well written and had the very best intentions behind it. But I think there is much in this volume which has been assumed rather than questioned. It is my prayer this article will encourage readers to discuss these issues with their friends, pastors, and professors––asking critical and thoughtful questions rather than just accepting man’s word at face value.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

––1 John 4:1––

[1] Bruce A. Ware, “Developing Doctrine from Scripture: A Case Study in the Doctrine of the Trinity,” Scripture and the People of God, ed. John DelHousaye, John J. Hughes, & Jeff T. Purswell, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 99.
[2] Ibid., 106-107.
[3] Ibid., 102.
[4] Ibid., 57.
[5] The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1:6.
[6] Frame, Scripture and the People of God, 61.
[7] Ibid., 63. This is actually a Socinian sentiment addressed by men like Francis Turretin in The Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 6-7.