Monday 4 January 2016

How do you view tradition in terms of rightly interpreting Scripture?

2 Thessalonians 2:15-17 "So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word".

How do we rightly interpret Scripture? It is by the Scripture being compared with Scripture, tradition and also reason. We do not conduct our search for the understanding of the Bible text in a vacuum and yet that is how many Christians view things. We bring ourselves under the authority of the written Word of God, but a sound interpretation is also needed. Sadly, many Christians view all tradition with suspicion and this is an error. The upholding and teaching of historic creeds, such as the Apostles' Creed, Nicene Creed (381), Athanasian Creed, Creed of Chalcedon and Confessions such as the Westminster Standards are essential to sound doctrinal principles for the church. It is never me and my Bible alone.

There has arisen a minority, but vocal group who have begun to challenge the church's doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son as outlined in The Nicene Creed. This Creed is upheld by the whole church and it is a non-negotiable in terms of orthodoxy. Some men come along to deny this doctrine. Sometimes younger men training for the ministry may have two very different attitudes; One says "I will accept the Nicene Creed (church tradition), only when I am personally convinced"; another says "I receive the church's teaching on this agreed statement and I desire to understand how the church reached this position". Can you see the radical difference in these two approaches? The former is flawed the latter is healthy.

The Nicene Creed on the Eternal Generation of the Son

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made:

Despite this clear doctrinal standard, there are some men, and theologians, who have arisen to suggest that we delete this doctrine from our church's Creeds and Confessions. This list of men includes, according to Kevin Giles who has written an excellent book "The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Tradition":

Wayne Grudem
Bruce Ware
Robert Reymond
Mark Driscoll
Paul Helm
Wiliam Lane Craig
John S Feinberg
Millard Erickson
Lorraine Boettner
John Frame is skeptical of this doctrine

What do we make of the teaching of such people on this matter? Well we uphold the church's orthodox position, we uphold the biblical tradition of the church on the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son, instead of the assertions of biblicists who seek to introduce a novel hermeneutic; this is one which mainly seeks to interpret the Bible though a lens that either minimises or dismisses historic confessions and creeds on key points.

We must remember Paul's healthy exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 "But test everything; hold fast what is good".


Bill Schweitzer said...

Excellent post, Kevin. Thanks very much for putting us in mind of these important things.

Kevin Bidwell said...

It is illuminating that such a doctrine as eternal generation actually reveals one's hermeneutic. A Biblical, historically faithful and Reformed approach to interpreting Scripture has never been done in isolation from church creeds and confessions, yet there are some who so easily sweep aside the Nicene Creed. Unbelievable in my opinion and that followers of such proposals so willingly and naively follow their call.
Though we do not agree with all things that Spurgeon stood for, including his view on baptism, none-the-less Spurgeon was a man who was unashamed about his own 1689 Baptist Confession. I think it was Spurgeon who said in lecturing on commentaries that "those who think so highly about their own opinion are slow to find out what the Holy Spirit has revealed to others". In other words, we must test out our opinions with others. Those who reject the Nicene Creed and the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son are not to be followed on this point, in my opinion and also this is the judgment of the church for the last 1600+ years.

Darren Moore said...

1st time I came across Kevin Giles' ideas was a few years ago in this useful piece

disturbing stuff

Kevin Bidwell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin Bidwell said...

Thanks for the comment about Kevin Giles unhelpful and in my view unbiblical view regarding the order among the Three Persons in the Trinity. I have written against Kevin Giles in this area but I will do a further blogpost lest some unsuspecting reader takes all of Giles' views on the Trinity uncritically. It is humbling for all of us is it not, that just because we are orthodox in many or even most areas, it does NOT guarantee orthodoxy in all the necessary places. Furthermore, Giles castigated those who deny eternal generation, and rightly so, but he fails to castigate those contemporary theologians who deny order (taxis), including himself, within the eternal relations of the Triune God. Oh the need equity for all of us (Proverbs 1:1-7).
Kevin B

Darren Moore said...

The 2 things that bother me about Giles' presentation are:
1. Working backwards from a conclusion. So, he seems to want egalitarianism in polity, trad Trinitarianism is a road block - so remove it. Although as someone pointed out to him, when it comes to gender distinctions in church and family nobody has actually ever argued for "eternal" submission of women!

2. His use of the word subordinationism makes those who argue with him into heretics, i.e. non-Christians. What you've just said about him is far more generous. I.e. generally orthodox, with this odd thing over here. A far more mature way to disagree with a brother. Although, I think tinkering with the Trinity, will have knock on effects, even if only a generation later.