I'm returning to an issue previously discussed at Against Heresies. You may wish to read the following posts in addition to this one:
Begotten before all worlds? Is Driscoll right to reject the eternal generation of the Son?
The Unbegotten Son? Is Driscoll right to reject the the eternal generation of the Son of God?
Discussing the creedal, catholic, doctrine of the eternal generation or begetting of the Son of God, Driscoll and Breshears (in their book Vintage Jesus) say the following:
There has been a raging controversy in the church about this term. Many see it as referencing the Trinitarian relation between the eternal Father and the eternal Son. The emphasis is that the Son is begotten not made. When I beget a son he is of the same essence as I am. But if I were to make a son, like a robot, he would certainly be entirely different from me. (p. 102)We are not told when this raging controversy took place, what the different parties believed, and who those parties were. What we do know is that the formal stating of the doctrine of the full deity and distinct personality of the Son of God, and of his eternal relationship with the Father, can be found in the ecumenical creeds. These symbols freely describe the Son as eternally begotten of the Father:
The Nicene Creed states that we believe in:
One Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.The Athanasian Creed follows this:
For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world.The same teaching is upheld by the Definition of Chalcedon which in addition distinguishes the begetting of the manhood of Jesus from Mary from the eternal begetting of the Son by the Father:
As regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.All of which gives the distinct impression that this is a settled controversy, as far as orthodoxy is concerned.
Unlike these creeds the doctrinal statement of Mars Hill Church has no affirmation of the eternal generation of the Son. Nor for that matter is there an affirmation of this doctrine in the statement of faith and teaching position document of Western Seminary where Gerry Breshears teaches systematic theology.
Driscoll and Breshears then add the following comments:
But if the Son is really begotten, it certainly sounds like we are headed into a cultish, Mormon-like understanding of a God who fathers children. Worse yet, it would also mean that rather than being eternal, the Son had a beginning, which is a core tenet of the Jehovah's Witness cult.Perhaps we would be heading into a cultish direction if the Son were in fact a creature, if he were not the eternal Son of God. Maybe we would be well on the way to Cultville if we ignored the Creator-creature distinction and thought that the terminology of 'begetting' applied to the Father-Son relationship in the Godhood in exactly the way that it applies to human father-son relationships in time and space.
For the cults the very fact that he is called the Son reduces his status, and not the fact of his eternal generation. If he is called the Son doesn't that somehow, by sheer possession of the title, make him less than the Father? Does it not imply creation, that he has a beginning?
I fail to see how claiming that he is 'begotten' makes any difference when it comes to those who seek to diminish the ineffable glory of the Son of God. Why isolate the language of begetting and generation and quibble over it when it belongs to the same category of language as father and son. Why is 'begotten' problematic when 'Son' isn't? For the cults all of these words are taken as indicative of creaturehood. And of course they are wrong to do so.
Look again at the first sentence:
But if the Son is really begotten, it certainly sounds like we are headed into a cultish, Mormon-like understanding of a God who fathers children.What does 'really' mean in that sentence? Are we to suppose that 'really' in this sentence is synonymous with literally? 'Really' as opposed to what? 'Metaphorically' perhaps? Is 'begetting' only real if it done by creatures? What about divine Sonship? Has he always been the Son? Is God really a Father if he has always had a Son?
It sounds as if to be 'really begotten' is only conceivable to Driscoll and Breshears if it applies at a creaturely level. Can Christ not be eternally begotten and that count as a real begetting? Samuel Miller, one of Princeton Seminary's first professors, remarked, on this precise point:
No one, I suppose, ever thought of contending for the literal sense of these terms, in reference to the persons of the Trinity; that is literal, when measured by their common, earthly sense. Their meaning, on this great subject, is not natural, but supernatural and Divine, and, of course, beyond the reach of our minds.I fear that what is missing with Driscoll and Breshears, in terms of approaching this subject, is the right starting point for thinking about God.
We must begin with God. We must begin with what God has said. We must remember that although he is infinitely exalted above all that he has made, and that the finite cannot comprehend the infinite, God has stooped down to speak to us on our level. We must remember that all and not part of God's verbal revelation is anthropomorphic, or else we could not grasp any part of his communication to us.
The point is surely clear, and this is why I find their squeamishness about Christ being the eternally begotten Son so half baked. When God tells us about himself, the paternal and filial language that he uses applies to himself as God in a way that is does not apply to us as creatures with direct equivalence.
Surely we are not tripped up by the free use in Scripture of God's arm, hand, eye, ear and mouth being referred to as if those words carried direct equivalence when used of God and man? When God smelled the aroma of Noah's sacrifice are we to think that he really has a nose? Why would we stumble then at 'begotten'? Why do Driscoll and Breshears isolate it and make it into a special case?
Furthermore, we will not fall into the error they warn us about in their second sentence, 'Worse yet, it would also mean that rather than being eternal, the Son had a beginning, which is a core tenet of the Jehovah's Witness cult', if we are clear about the right starting place for thinking about God, the Creator-creature distinction, and how we are to understand the proper application of analogical language.
The eternal begetting of the Son of God does not mean that he has a beginning, and it lends no support to Arian ideas ancient or modern. The words of protest on this point, written by Samuel Miller in 1823, are worth repeating:
I will...once more say that I protest utterly against attaching to the terms in question, any of those carnal and grovelling ideas which the same terms excite when applied to the affairs of men.I hope to return to this issue by interacting further with the reasons for rejecting the eternal generation of the Son in Doctrine: What Christians should believe, and by taking up the exegetical case for this creedal truth. I'm also hoping, time permitting, to take a look at John Owen's exposition and defense of eternal generation, against the Socinians, in Vindicae Evangelicae (vol. 12 in the Banner edition of Owen's works), and also at the Princetonian Samuel Miller's work Letters on the Eternal Sonship of Christ.