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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exegetically, Theologically, Historically Robust Examination of an Important Historic Doctrine, June 27, 2012
This review is from: The Eternal Generation of the Son: Maintaining Orthodoxy in Trinitarian Theology (Paperback)
Apparently, for several years, several prominent voices within evangelicalism have sought to undermine and flat-out dismiss a significant doctrine of the historic Christian faith: the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. This doctrine explains how the Father and the Son can both be God, yet one is the Father and one is the Son. It attempts to put human words to a hard concept to graple with, mainly, if God is one yet three persons, how is God self-differentiated? How is God different within himself and how are these persons different within the same one God?

This doctrine is a human attempt to answer this important question in light of Scripture, an explaination that the historic Church settled centuries ago, yet is being challenged by several significant contemporary evangelical voices. These voices are countered and corrected by Kevin Giles' new, important book The Eternal Generation of the Son, a copy of which was provided by IVP to review.

Giles takes up and defends this cause, because, as he puts it, "the eternal generation of the Son takes us to the heart of the gospel, the good news, that in Jesus Christ we meet with the God who saves." (16) He echos Thomas Torrance's claim that the Father-Son relationship stands at the heart of the Christian faith, "It is only in the Son...that God has revealed himself to us," particularly for our salvation. As Giles says, "If we do not meet and know God in Christ, then we are without hope." (15)

So Giles takes up this cause because the definition of "God" is of utmost importance to the gospel, to salvation itself. But unlike others who are reimagining the Trinity in light of and in accomodation to modern day polytheism, contemporary mainstream evangelicals are dismissing the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son on different grounds: they routinely, consistently insist it has no grounding in Scripture; there is no prooftext to which theologians, not to mention the early Church Fathers, can point to make their case.

Interestingly, these voices include major heavy weights in recent and contemporary evangelicalism: Charles Hodge and BB Warfield; Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware and William Lane Craig; Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears. In fact, I was astounded to come across the views of this later pair in preparation for a theology class I taught at an urban ministry school. In their Doctrine book, they argue for an eternal subordination of the Son and insist eternal generation is not specifically found in Scripture and the term "begotten" is unhelpful and unclear. Thus, they conclude, "it is best to omit the creedal terms `begotten' and `proceeds' from our definition of the Trinity. Our authority is not in creeds but in scripture." (Doctrine, 28)

From here, Giles takes the reader through a well-researched, exegetically-informed, historically-engaging examination of the doctrine the Son's begottenness and how these folks are simply wrong to omit the important creedal terms from this important doctrine of the Son. And he does so by beginning with a conversation that takes head-on the naive assumptions voiced at the end of Driscoll's and Breshears' quotation: our authority is not in creeds but in scripture.

Before launching into his exegetical, historical, and theological defense of our doctrine, Giles spends a chapter exploring "'Doing' Evangelical Theology," a crucial starting point for sure, and one that broadens the conversation beyond simply this book and this doctrine. Giles' basic argument is this: while the Bible certainly is the ultimate authority in answering theological questions, doing evangelical theology--and I'd argue, and it seems like Giles would, too, theology generally--involves far more than direct appeal to the Bible. As Giles explains, "Every doctrine is informed by Scripture, but ultimately it represents a theological effirmation predicated on a synthetic appregension of what is given in Scripture...doctrines are not merely the systematization of what Scripture explicitly says...doctrine is the fruit of centuries of prayerful study of Scripture by the best minds in the church and it represents an agreed communal conclusion usually spelled out in a creed or confession." (46)

What Giles gets at here is the difference between the Reformation cry sola scriptura and solo scriptura. Notice the two soles: sola and solo. Sola (with an 'a') means alone, while solo (with an 'o') means only. Yes, the Bible is the final authority on matters of faith and conduct; it isn't our only authoritative voice, however. The Reformers themselves got this, as they "were committed to reading [scripture] inlight of how the church had understood it across the centuries." (53) The likes of Driscoll and Breshear and others make a mistake, a naieve one at that, in assuming that our doctrines are not rooted in both Scripture and creeds, in both the Text and Tradition. Giles argues and shows that the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son is rooted in both.

In his next chapter, Giles says he does not come to Scripture "blankley"--he comes to Scripture in search of answers to the question concerning this doctrine "having first studies carefully how and why the great theologians of the past concluded that the Bible speaks clearly of the eternal generation of the Son," and then he concludes whether they stand in the light of a historical and critical interpretation of Scripture exegetically. (71) I find this method not only appropriate but also refreshing, and a model for evangelicals of all stripes in regards to doctrinal issues of all stripes. We need both Text and Tradition to understand the pieces of the Christian faith.

For Giles, the historical and critical interpretation of Scripture and the theological interprettion of Scripture are not mutually exclusive, they are complementary. This is why alongside Scripture's story regarding this doctrine we see Tradition's story regarding this doctrine. It is in telling these two versions of this doctrine's story that we see that the eternal generation of the Son as begotten, not created, of the Father is real.

The Apologists and Justin Martyr said so. Irenaeus said so, and so did Tertullian. Origen said so, against whom Arius, the heritic, reacted and said "no way!" Of course Athanasius responded to Arius which gave us much of our historic, Scriptural understanding of the doctrine. The Cappadocian Fathers all said so, which led to a new form of the Creed of Nicaea. Both Augustine and Aquinas said so, a very well-informed and informative chapter. And finally, and perhaps most importantly for our evangelical Protestant detractors, the better-known and better-informed Reformation and Post-Reformation voices clearly recognized and endorsed the importance of the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. Giles lays out the case both historically and exegetically, letting these historical voices do the exegetical talking, making the case for this doctrine both textually and traditionally.

This book will be an invaluable resource for students and pastors alike who want to better understand this important facet of historical Christology. While contemporary mainstream evangelicals are seeking to ground the divine self-differention in two alternative modes--the differing works and the differing authority of the divine three as seen in their divine saving and historical activity--Giles insists otherwise, saying that the Nicene Father rejected these approaches, instead insisting "that divine self-differentiation must be understood to have taken place in eternity, within the life of God, and be independent of creation. What is revealed of God's triunity in history simply reflects what is true apart from history in the immanent Trinity; God is eternally triune." (235)

In the end, Giles masterfully shows us why the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son is important: it is the basis for our belief that the Father and the Son are one in being and power, yet two "two persons." This doctrine isn't important simply for tradition's sake, but for the sake of the gospel. It's important because it explains that God is triune not because of anything that has taken place in the world, but because it is true from eternity past. It's important because it affirms that the three "persons" of the Trinity are all truly God--and this mean's Jesus the Son is of the very same nature and being as the Father, which means he is of the same majesty and power as the Father. And this has great bearing on the nature and status of Christ as capable of rescuing us, in addition to standing in stark contrast to the other false religions of the world.

This and more is why this doctrine was important to Athanasius and the Cappadocians, not to mention Augustine and Aquinas, and why it should be important to us, as well. Now more than ever we need to get Christ right. For centuries the historic Church has helped us in the contemporary Church get Christ right. Here Giles helps us get Christ right by explaining exegetically, historically, and theologically why. And now pastors have a great resource to teach Christ rightly in order for their people to get Christ right--for the sake of the gospel itself.
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Initial post: Apr 17, 2013 6:50:14 PM PDT
Excellent review of an excellent book. I am just now finishing my reading of the book, & I agree with your outline entirely. I find Giles a marvellously well-informed theologian, & one who truly understands the issues that some other writers have muddied. Yes, I knew that Grudem & Ware were "out in left field" but thankfully Giles & Torrance & a few others are holding the line for orthodoxy. Seminarians especially should read this book!!!
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