Category Archives: B. B. Warfield

B.B. Warfield’s Trinitarianism. But B.B. ‘There is no God Behind the Back of God’

Here are a couple of warfielddrawingquotes from Princeton theologian of yesteryear, B.B. Warfield for your consideration:

The doctrine of the Trinity is “the doctrine that there is one only and true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three coeternal and coequal Persons, the same in substance but distinct in subsistence.”

-B. B. Warfield, “The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity,” in Biblical and Theological Studies, p. 22.

I think this short quote offers an illustration of what sounds perfectly orthodox (and it is in many ways!), but it also illustrates something that I have been after for quite some time. For Warfield, as for Charles Hodge, the informing theology behind his thinking comes from Westminster Calvinism; and in particular, as for Hodge, and thus by way of influence, for Warfield, Francis Turretin’s Elenctic Theology (‘Polemic  Theology’) played an indubitle role in shaping his doctrine of God and the categories through which he thought.

All I want to highlight with this quote from Warfield on the Trinity, is that if the reader pays careful attention and reads slow enough; he or she will recognize the role that so called substance metaphysics or classical theism (the synthesis of Aristotelian categories with Christian Theology) is playing in giving expression to Warfield’s articulation of the Trinity. We have ‘unity of the Godhead’, that is good! We have ‘three coeternal and coequal Persons’, also good!! Then we have ‘the same substance but distinct in subsistence’, not good!!! What this substance language presupposes is the Aristotelian distinction between ‘essence’ and ‘accident’; the former is necessary attribution of a things constituent parts (like for Thomas Aquinas’ anthropology he believed that the intellect was the touchstone of what it means to be a human being created in the image of God), but the latter (i.e. accident) is not a necessary feature of what identifies someone as a human being—so a person can’t be a person without an intellect, but a person can still be person without having red hair or being a tennis player (these are accidents of their person-hood). If we use this dualism, this binary-code, this distinction to describe God’s oneness and threeness–as Warfield has–then we end up with a concept or thingness of Godness that stands behind the back or above the subsisting persons that flow from this thingness of Godness; one consequence of this is that there is no necessary relationship between being God (in unity) and the subsisting persons who hang arbitrarily below this essence or substance or thingness of Godness. The only thing correlating the oneness and threeness of God together in Warfield’s account is his piety and assertion; it is not his theology. [Let me add this clarification: What I am saying is that in Warfield’s account there is no necessary relationship between the person’s who subsist from the unity of God, and the unity of God. God could still be a unity without his subsistence, just as I could still be a human being without being a tennis player. Evangelical Calvinism, as construed by Myk, myself, and foremost, T. F. Torrance, offers a doctrine of the Trinity that works from what Torrance calls ‘onto-relations’. This emphasizes a subject-in-being distinction, but it is this distinction in perichoretic (interpenetrating relation) that defines the one subject of the Monarchia or God-head; so God’s oneness defines his threeness and his threeness defines his oneness. There is nothing subsisting in this schema, Godself if anything is his own subsistence in onto-relation one with the other … there is no God[ness] then behind the back of Jesus, or for that matter, behind the Holy Spirit.]

This is one of the reasons why in classic Westminster Calvinism we end up with a God who is disjointed, ruptured from within, impersonal and a host of other things when considering the theology that stands behind the beautiful piety of their classic Reformed faith. And this is why Warfield and others need to be questioned in regard to the adequacy of their relative doctrine of God, and other subsequent doctrines that follow—like theories of revelation, atonement, bibliology, salvation, etc.

*repost

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‘Thingness of Godness’: Questioning the Adequacy of B.B. Warfield’s Trinitarianism

My e-friend, Michael Jones has started a new Facebook page; Reformed TheologiansIt looks as if Michael will be highlighting various quotes, pictures, and other things associated with the Reformed faith. He has a couple of warfielddrawingquotes up, currently, from Princeton theologian of yesteryear, B.B. Warfield. Michael offers this quote from Warfield on the Trinity:

The doctrine of the Trinity is “the doctrine that there is one only and true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three coeternal and coequal Persons, the same in substance but distinct in subsistence.”

-B. B. Warfield, “The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity,” in Biblical and Theological Studies, p. 22.

I think this short quote offers an illustration of what sounds perfectly orthodox (and it is in many ways!), but it also illustrates something that I have been after for quite some time. For Warfield, as for Charles Hodge, the informing theology behind his thinking comes from Westminster Calvinism; and in particular, as for Hodge, and thus by way of influence, for Warfield, Francis Turretin’s Elenctic Theology (‘Polemic  Theology’) played an indubitle role in shaping his doctrine of God and the categories through which he thought.

All I want to highlight with this quote from Warfield on the Trinity, is that if the reader pays careful attention and reads slow enough; he or she will recognize the role that so called substance metaphysics or classical theism (the synthesis of Aristotelian categories with Christian Theology) is playing in giving expression to Warfield’s articulation of the Trinity. We have ‘unity of the Godhead’, that is good! We have ‘three coeternal and coequal Persons’, also good!! Then we have ‘the same substance but distinct in subsistence’, not good!!! What this substance language presupposes is the Aristotelian distinction between ‘essence’ and ‘accident’; the former is necessary attribution of a things constituent parts (like for Thomas Aquinas’ anthropology he believed that the intellect was the touchstone of what it means to be a human being created in the image of God), but the latter (i.e. accident) is not a necessary feature of what identifies someone as a human being—so a person can’t be a person without an intellect, but a person can still be person without having red hair or being a tennis player (these are accidents of their person-hood). If we use this dualism, this binary-code, this distinction to describe God’s oneness and threeness–as Warfield has–then we end up with a concept or thingness of Godness that stands behind the back or above the subsisting persons that flow from this thingness of Godness; one consequence of this is that there is no necessary relationship between being God (in unity) and the subsisting persons who hang arbitrarily below this essence or substance or thingness of Godness. The only thing correlating the oneness and threeness of God together in Warfield’s account is his piety and assertion; it is not his theology. [Let me add this clarification: What I am saying is that in Warfield’s account there is no necessary relationship between the person’s who subsist from the unity of God, and the unity of God. God could still be a unity without his subsistence, just as I could still be a human being without being a tennis player. Evangelical Calvinism, as construed by Myk, myself, and foremost, T. F. Torrance, offers a doctrine of the Trinity that works from what Torrance calls ‘onto-relations’. This emphasizes a subject-in-being distinction, but it is this distinction in perichoretic (interpenetrating relation) that defines the one subject of the Monarchia or God-head; so God’s oneness defines his threeness and his threeness defines his oneness. There is nothing subsisting in this schema, Godself if anything is his own subsistence in onto-relation one with the other … there is no God[ness] then behind the back of Jesus, or for that matter, behind the Holy Spirit.]

This is one of the reasons why in classic Westminster Calvinism we end up with a God who is disjointed, ruptured from within, impersonal and a host of other things when considering the theology that stands behind the beautiful piety of their classic Reformed faith. And this is why Warfield and others need to be questioned in regard to the adequacy of their relative doctrine of God, and other subsequent doctrines that follow—like theories of revelation, atonement, bibliology, salvation, etc.

On Being a Christian Theological Exegete: B.B. Warfield V. Friedrich Schleiermacher

There is a certain methodology a theologian or exegete should follow if they want to be considered a Christian Theologian or Exegete. The methodology a Christian Theologian or Exegete should follow is one that principally starts with Jesus as the goal (telos) of their theological and exegetical work; one that sees Jesus as the inner-coherence and unity of meaning inherent to the Christian’s formal source of witness, the Bible. Insofar as the theologian and/or exegete proximates their work to this standard; then what they produce can be considered, Christian.

schleiermacherIn thinking about this post I wanted to provide a counter-voice to the voice I want to feature as the featured voice for this post. I used to have an excellent quote on hand that would have done a great job in providing the foil I am looking for to at least illustrate my thesis statement above. The quote I once had (but has since been deleted from one of my multitudinous blogs) was from that stalwart Fundamentalist theologian B. B. Warfield of pre-Westminster Theological Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary fame. In summary, what his quote stated was axiomatic for what provided the general shape of the ‘Christian’ Fundamentalist Faith; and that is that Christian Fundamentalism, according to one of her best (Warfield), was an Apologetic Faith. Meaning that contrary to the Liberal Theological tradition that was seeping into places like Warfield’s Princeton; that Warfield’s (Fundamentalist) Christianity was one that sought to meet Liberal Theology’s claims upon their grounds. In other words, if the ground of ‘Liberal Theology’ was primarily one that found purchase from rationalistic and so called ‘man-centered’ ground (like positivism, historicism, pietism, etc.); then Fundamentalist Christianity was eager to meet this ‘problem’ by doing so on the same grounds. In brief (and this nut-shells that quote from Warfield I once had): the one who could out-think and out-argue the other (Liberal versus Fundy), wins! Warfield (and Fundamentalist, and even American Evangelicalism) attempted to defeat Liberal Christianity by adopting their principles of proof; by using positivistic logic; by seeking to establish the veracity of the Bible, and the miracles therein, thus providing ‘something’ upon which Christians could indubitably stand and believe. Warfield & co. were not alone in trying to preserve the integrity of “Conservative-Classical-Christianity;” the yester-year preceding someone like Warfield had seen an apologetic Christianity thrive and take shape as well. A Christianity wherein we could have something like a systematic theology entitled Enlectic Theology (Turretin’s — meaning apologetic or defensive theology). This ground swell provided a tradition that Warfield could appeal to, and in this tradition he was given a methodology that sought to provide proof of God’s existence through philosophical reasoning (in the Medieval era this was called the via negativa or negative theology).

The above serves as a brief sketch (longer than I wanted — and very oversimplified) of maybe an organic relationship that inhered between the 17th and late 19th early 20th centuries Anglo-European/American theological development. In this vein, and for this post, I thought I would take a look at an old Systematic Theology text-books we used during one of my under-grad experiences; Charles Ryrie’s Basic Theology. I was not let down by the method and order that Ryrie appropriated for his “Theology.” It is one that he inherited from many in the Medieval-scholastic era; one that has pedigree with someone like Francis Turretin’s Enlectic Theology (and I mean in mode); and one that fulfills the on-going trajectory set by the Fundamentalist Warrior, B. B. Warfield. Starting in Ryrie’s Chapter 5, entitled Revelation of God, he starts his discussion out, on General Revelation, by providing the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God (a classical argument that argues for the existence of finite creation by positing the need for an infinite cause); then he gives us the Teleological Argument, the Moral Argument, and the infamous Ontological Argument — all classic philosophical proofs seeking to provide rational proof for the existence of God.

I sketch all of the above in order to provide a salient quote that throws the above approach into relief. Christian Theology does not start where Warfield or Ryrie started; it does not feel the need to prove the material content of what it seeks to provide grammar for. Christian Theology should assume (as the Scripture’s do) the triune God whom she worships, and this supposition should present us with the categories and theological furniture necessary to carry out the vocation of what it means to be a Christian Theologian or Exegete. In short, Apologetics should not provide the methodological ground for how we proceed in our Dogmatic reflection as Christians. If we are Christians we don’t need to prove to ourselves the belief that God is triune; our self-identity already presupposes said belief (and this is evidenced in the way that someone like the Apostle Paul wrote his epistles; he didn’t argue for the Trinity or the existence of God prior to penning his letters, he presupposes this as the reality that shapes his identity and thus the material that he exhorts his brothers and sisters through in the various churches he wrote to). With this is mind I have come across a great quote, and with this quote I will close:

[I]t is obvious that an adherent of some other faith might perhaps be completely convinced by the above account that what we have set forth is really the peculiar essence of Christianity, without being thereby so convinced that Christianity is actually the truth, as to be compelled to accept it. Everything we say in this place is relative to Dogmatics, and Dogmatics is only for Christians; and so this account is only for those who live within the pale of Christianity, and is intended only to give guidance, in the interests of Dogmatics, for determining whether the expressions of any religious consciousness are Christian or not, and whether the Christian quality is strongly expressed in them, or rather doubtfully. We entirely renounce all attempt to prove the truth or necessity of Christianity; and we presuppose, on the contrary, that every Christian, before he enters at all upon inquires of this kind, has already the inward certainty that his religion cannot taken any higher form than this. [Friedrich Schleirmacher cited by Bruce L. McCormack, Orthodox And Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth, 72]

Evangelical Calvinist theological-exegetical methodology operates from this posture. It seeks to follow a Christian methodology, like, for example, the Apostle Paul assumed in his writings. It is not our intention to prove God’s existence, the veracity of the Scriptures, etc. before we feel that we can then do theology or exegesis. Instead, as Christians, we recognize that our self-identity necessitates that we move and breathe as such; and this self-conscious reality has a dramatic impact (or should) upon how we proceed as theologians and exegetes. It is this movement that I believe allows someone to say, in general, that they are operating as a genuine Christian theologian or exegete. What do you think?

*repost, a good one ;-)!

On Being a ‘Christian Theologian-Exegete’: Warfield, Ryrie versus “______________”

There is a certain methodology a theologian or exegete should follow if they want to be considered a Christian Theologian or Exegete. The methodology a Christian Theologian or Exegete should follow is one that principally starts with Jesus as the goal (telos) of their theological and exegetical work; one that sees Jesus as the inner-coherence and unity of meaning inherent to the Christian’s formal source of witness, the Bible. Insofar as the theologian and/or exegete proximates their work to this standard; then what they produce can be considered, Christian.

[I thought a good practice for me, here at the blog, would be to start my posts out with an intentional thesis statement. And so the above attempts to do that. Of course how I develop and defend said thesis may remain in an undeveloped state given time constraints, and the nature of blogging (at least for) itself.]

In thinking about this post I wanted to provide a counter-voice to the voice I want to feature as the featured voice for this post. I used to have an excellent quote on hand that would have done a great job in providing the foil I am looking for to at least illustrate my thesis statement above. The quote I once had (but has since been deleted from one of my multitudinous blogs) was from that stalwart Fundamentalist theologian B. B. Warfield of pre-Westminster Theological Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary fame. In summary, what his quote stated was axiomatic for what provided the general shape of the ‘Christian’ Fundamentalist Faith; and that is that Christian Fundamentalism, according to one of her best (Warfield), was an Apologetic Faith. Meaning that contrary to the Liberal Theological tradition that was seeping into places like Warfield’s Princeton; that Warfield’s (Fundamentalist) Christianity was one that sought to meet Liberal Theologie’s claims upon their grounds. In other words, if the ground of ‘Liberal Theology’ was primarily one that found purchase from rationalistic and so called ‘man-centered’ ground (like positivism, historicism, pietism, etc.); then Fundamentalist Christianity was eager to meet this ‘problem’ by doing so on the same grounds. In brief (and this nut-shells that quote from Warfield I once had): the one who could out-think and out-argue the other (Liberal versus Fundy), wins! Warfield (and Fundamentalist, and even American Evangelicalism) attempted to defeat Liberal Christianity by adopting their principles of proof; by using positivistic logic; by seeking to establish the veracity of the Bible, and the miracles therein, thus providing ‘something’ upon which Christians could indubitably stand and believe. Warfield & co. were not alone in trying to preserve the integrity of “Conservative-Classical-Christianity;” the yester-year preceding someone like Warfield had seen an apologetic Christianity thrive and take shape as well. A Christianity wherein we could have something like a systematic theology entitled Enlectic Theology (Turretin’s — meaning apologetic or defensive theology). This ground swell provided a tradition that Warfield could appeal to, and in this tradition he was given a methodology that sought to provide proof of God’s existence through philosophical reasoning (in the Medieval era this was called the via negativa or negative theology).

The above serves as a brief sketch (longer than I wanted — and very oversimplified) of maybe an organic relationship that inhered between the 17th and late 19th early 20th centuries Anglo-European/American theological development. In this vein, and for this post, I thought I would take a look at an old Systematic Theology text-books we used during one of my under-grad experiences; Charles Ryrie’s Basic Theology. I was not let down by the method and order that Ryrie appropriated for his “Theology.” It is one that he inherited from many in the Medieval-scholastic era; one that has pedigree with someone like Francis Turretin’s Enlectic Theology (and I mean in mode); and one that fulfills the on-going trajectory set by the Fundamentalist Warrior, B. B. Warfield. Starting in Ryrie’s Chapter 5, entitled Revelation of God, he starts his discussion out, on General Revelation, by providing the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God (a classical argument that argues for the existence of finite creation by positing the need for an infinite cause); then he gives us the Teleological Argument, the Moral Argument, and the infamous Ontological Argument — all classic philosophical proofs seeking to provide rational proof for the existence of God.

I sketch all of the above in order to provide a salient quote that throws the above approach into relief. Christian Theology does not start where Warfield or Ryrie started; it does not feel the need to prove the material content of what it seeks to provide grammar for. Christian Theology should assume (as the Scripture’s do) the triune God whom she worships, and this supposition should present us with the categories and theological furniture necessary to carry out the vocation of what it means to be a Christian Theologian or Exegete. In short, Apologetics should not provide the methodological ground for how we proceed in our Dogmatic reflection as Christians. If we are Christians we don’t need to prove to ourselves the belief that God is triune; our self-identity already presupposes said belief (and this is evidenced in the way that someone like the Apostle Paul wrote his epistles; he didn’t argue for the Trinity or the existence of God prior to penning his letters, he presupposes this as the reality that shapes his identity and thus the material that he exhorts his brothers and sisters through in the various churches he wrote to). With this is mind I have come across a great quote from someone who will remain un-named (you can try and guess who it is though 😉 ); and with this quote I will close:

[I]t is obvious that an adherent of some other faith might perhaps be completely convinced by the above account that what we have set forth is really the peculiar essence of Christianity, without being thereby so convinced that Christianity is actually the truth, as to be compelled to accept it. Everything we say in this place is relative to Dogmatics, and Dogmatics is only for Christians; and so this account is only for those who live within the pale of Christianity, and is intended only to give guidance, in the interests of Dogmatics, for determining whether the expressions of any religious consciousness are Christian or not, and whether the Christian quality is strongly expressed in them, or rather doubtfully. We entirely renounce all attempt to prove the truth or necessity of Christianity; and we presuppose, on the contrary, that every Christian, before he enters at all upon inquires of this kind, has already the inward certainty that his religion cannot taken any higher form than this. [ _______________ cited by Bruce L. McCormack, Orthodox And Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth, 72]

I am withholding the name of the theologian cited, because it may be a source of stumbling for some; and thus cause them to not appreciate what he is communicating (I will say that it is not Karl Barth). Evangelical Calvinist theological-exegetical methodology operates from this posture. It seeks to follow a Christian methodology, like, for example, the Apostle Paul assumed in his writings. It is not our intention to prove God’s existence, the veracity of the Scriptures, etc. before we feel that we can then do theology or exegesis. Instead, as Christians, we recognize that our self-identity necessitates that we move and breathe as such; and this self-conscious reality has a dramatic impact (or should) upon how we proceed as theologians and exegetes. It is this movement that I believe allows someone to say, in general, that they are operating as a genuine Christian theologian or exegete. What do you think?