I concluded my last blog with a number of conclusions I have drawn as I have read, studied, and taught the doctrine of the Trinity in the midst of the modern debate over “egalitatarian” views of the Trinity and the role relationships of men and women. The first of those conclusions was that significant problems have developed among evangelicals since the Enlightenment on the doctrine of the Trinity.
I suppose that the first question someone might ask me about that assertion is, “By what standard?” My answer is by the standard of the Bible, but also by the standard of the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed or at least its identifying trinitarian formulas were adopted by all the mainstream confessions and creeds of the Reformation. Here is the language of the Nicene Creed in the form that it emerged after the Council of Constantinople in 381 and in which it is commonly used liturgies today. Though it differs slightly from the version published after the Council of Nicea, its doctrinal assertions have not substantially changed:
“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 only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds light of light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and arose on the third day according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of the Father, and cometh again with glory to judge the quick and the dead; of whose kingdom there shall be no end.
And in the Holy Ghost the Lord, the Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets;
In one holy catholic and apostolic church; we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
The key words of importance for the modern debate I have placed in bold italics. The Nicene Creed asserts, of course, that there are three persons who are God. It also asserts that there is only one God. Thus, the deity of the Son and Spirit is identical to the deity of the Father. The Son is “of one substance with Father” and by implication so is the Spirit.
But when these two truths (that there is one God and that there are three persons who are God) have been stated, the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity has not yet been fully stated. The Creed is at pains to state with incredible repetition and emphasis what we call the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son. The Lord Jesus Christ is the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds light of light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father. Unless we believe this doctrine, we do not believe the Nicene Creed; and we do not—by the standard of the Nicene Creed—hold to the Trinitarianism of historic Christianity. Modern evangelicals need to think about that!