How not to be a heretic – be teachable

One of the people who has been right at the centre of the EFS controversy has been Wayne Grudem. When the charge of heresy is made it is primarily targeted against Grudem and Bruce Ware. This is understandable because I have to admit that out of the “EFS” proponents, it has been their language that has been clumsiest, and they have been the most at risk of pushing boundaries.

However, there are two other reasons as to why Grudem is the bad guy. First of all, there’s his support for Donald Trump and secondly there is his status as one of the leading lights in terms of complementarianism.  If Grudem falls on this, then a lot else may well fall

So you may be surprised to hear me suggest that Grudem despite his many faults and failings demonstrates a crucial quality in the Trinity debates that is essential if we are going to remain faithful to orthodox biblical teaching. To illustrate, let me take you back to one specific area of dispute -Eternal Generation.  Interacting with Carl Trueman  and Liam Golligher,  Grudem made this response:

“But just what is meant by “eternal generation”? In what [Goligher and Trueman] have written, I cannot discover what they mean. To substitute the words “paternity” and “filiation” provides some Latinized terminology but those terms simply mean “existing as a father” and “existing as a son,” which tells us nothing more. Quite honestly, I find it impossible to say whether or not I agree with “eternal generation” until someone explains, in ordinary English, what he means by it (not just what it does not mean). (If “eternal generation” simply means “an eternal Father-Son relationship,” then I am happy to affirm it.)”[1]

It is important to note that Grudem is not here questioning the oneness of God or equality of the persons, in fact he isn’t in fact disagreeing with Eternal Generation in terms of the content of that doctrine. Rather, he is saying that he would struggle to either agree or disagree with the phrase Eternal Generation because he is not sure what the people using it mean by it. He then accuses them of using Latinized language that takes us no nearer to understanding what they mean and believe. I have some sympathy with this. I’ve engaged with people on the question of what we mean/don’t mean by “persons” and they have stated formulaically what we cannot mean by the word but I am still unclear as to what some people do mean when they talk about the “persons of the Trinity.”

It is furthermore important to notice that Grudem’s concern with Eternal Generation language and the use of “begotten” could be heard to imply that the Son is ontologically less than the Father. Despite the accusations against Grudem and whether or not he does this effectively or makes matters worse, it is clear that his aim is to resist Arianism and uphold the status of Christ as fully God and fully man.

However, the key thing I want to draw your attention to is this that Grudem after engaging in ongoing conversation with others was later happy to say this:

“My conclusion on eternal generation: I am now willing to affirm the “eternal generation of the Son,” based on John 1:14, 18, etc., as something mysterious, not implying creation of the Son (“begotten not made”), and somehow analogous to a human father-son relationship.”[2]

Bruce Ware who had similarly raised questions about the term also at the same event confirmed that he was now happy with it.  What I want you to notice is that whether or not you agree with Grudem and Ware and whether you think they’ve still got things seriously wrong that what they were prepared to do was in the context of debate to listen, reflect and if necessary to change their mind in order to bring it into greater conformity with God’s Word.

It is sadly rare to hear public figures express a willingness to review their position on things.  And yet, if we are fallible human beings, there will always be things that we need to revisit.  It is crucial that preachers, teachers and pastors/elders are teachable, always ready to be corrected by God’s Word.

This teachability keeps us humble and keeps us coming back to Scripture. It enables us to listen to the views of others and to check back against God’s Word to see if their criticism of us is valid.  This teachability is a crucial defence against the danger of heresy.

[1] Another Thirteen Evangelical Theologians Who Affirm the Eternal Submission of the Son to the Father – Reformation 21

[2] ETS-Presentation-on-Trinity-11-15-16.pdf (

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