From the Archives: Book Review: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:

Relationships, Roles, and Relevance

Bruce Ware authored a book on the Trinity, published through Crossway Books in 2005 titled Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. It is a focused examination of certain aspects of the Trinity. The subtitle reveals the focal points: “Relationships, Roles, & Relevance“. In other words, Ware is going to explore the interactions of the persons of the Trinity, the roles they play in several areas, and the relevance the doctrine has for us today. The work is unique in both its content and length. Doctrinal works on the Trinity are relatively rare. Given the academic air that Ware breathes one could easily expect a voluminous treatment. This book is a short read. Not a quick read. Short.

Dr. Ware is briefly biographed on the back cover as the Senior Associate Dean and Professor of Christian Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. I have read a couple of his other works and listened to some of his lectures responding to the Open Theism heresy. His has been helpful in understanding the issues with Open Theism from a conservative evangelical point of view. So, how about this book? It has proven to be a mixed bag. Some good, some bad. Let’s look at the good first.

The Good

Wonder

Ware reflects with amazement that the Father involves us in his kingdom work. I identify with the author when he roots his amazement in his own personality flaw of perfectionism. It is very hard for a perfectionist to let go of the reigns and allow someone else to do the work. I had to nod my head in agreement with Ware. The Father’s generosity of opportunity in labor that is everlasting in its fruits (namely sharing the gospel in many forms) is truly wonderful and can rightly bring wonder to our hearts as part of our vocabulary of worship.

True Fatherhood

Ware asserts that we can learn what true fatherhood is by looking to God the Father as our great exemplar. He raises distinct but complementary aspects for our consideration:

“God as Father insists on our respect and obedience.”

“God fathers us by being lavish, generous, even extravagant in his care, love, provision, and protection for his children.”

I love the way Ware builds both our awareness of God’s care and our worship vocabulary simultaneously. He has hit the true mark of theology – this is theology that issues forth in doxology, theology that leads to worship. It is not an easy mark to hit

Radical Feminism

Ware spends a full paragraph defending God’s self-revelation as Father and strongly denouncing the radical feminist pursuit to eradicate masculine language of God in Scripture. Given the heart-commitment that some have to the feminist viewpoint, it is unlikely (humanly speaking) that the arguments presented will sway their thinking. Their ears are stuffed full with zeal. Even so, I thought Ware wrote with appropriate strength about the unbiblical nature of the feminist view. If we are to take the Scriptures as God-breathed we must make sense of them as they stand, not by tinkering with the wording to make it more palatable to modern tastes (so much for my poker-face in gender-neutral translations and the egalitarian debate).

Reciprocal Honor

Ware highlights the need for reciprocal honor of those in authority and those under authority. He asserts that the inter-relationships of the Trinity are the model and basis for this mutual honor. He does not demand one-way honor directed towards authority. He calls for reciprocal honor, all based on observed relationships within the Trinity. There is a healthy balance that is all too easily thrown off-kilter by our lusts and love of idolatry (especially when we are the idol).

One clarification could be raised here. Ware designates the inter-relationships of the Trinity as the model for reciprocal honor between the one in authority and the one under authority and he intends us to apply it on our plane of human inter-relationships. That is where the reciprocal honor applies. Honor does not apply reciprocally between God and us. Perhaps I am naive in thinking this way, but I do not presume to expect God to honor me mutually in my relationship with Him. I may pray for His blessing, but honor flows one direction in this relationship… from me to Him.

Jesus and the Spirit

Ware examines an aspect of Jesus’ human life that I’ve rarely seen explored. He makes the case that Jesus’ sinless human life is grounded in his submission to the Spirit rather than his divine nature. In doing so, Ware is exerting himself to bring Jesus’ humanity to the forefront in the single most challenging area of the Christian faith – our daily walk. How many times have you felt disconnected from the perfection of Jesus’ life because of the easy excuse, “He was God in the flesh. What do you expect of me?” This life of submission to and reliance upon the Holy Spirit is a good point that needs to be explored more widely in modern evangelical circles. Holiness continues to be a challenge to the modern soul, at times disappearing from mention concerning the daily walk of the Christian. This is one of the points that Ware makes which could benefit from much more treatment. He cannot explore it adequately in the brevity of this work.

Real Humanity – Interconnected and Interdependent
Ware notes our American cultural autonomy and its appeal to the power of the individual. In contrast, he places Trinitarian inter-relationships as the pattern for real, authentic humanity – interconnected and interdependent. Anticipating potential reactions to what I’ve written here, I want to highlight that Ware is speaking of the influence of our cultural autonomy. Ware is not proposing a socialist political identity or some other nonsense as a corrective to our cultural autonomy.

Relationships and Essential Being Within the Trinity

Ware correctly attributes simultaneous worship of the Father and Son. He discusses equality of the essential nature of the persons of the Trinity (the ontological trinity, theologically speaking). He emphasizes and re-emphasizes the authority structure of the functional relationships of the Trinity (the economic Trinity).

Counsel for Christian Husbands
Ware writes forcefully and pointedly of the example set before Christian husbands in the care of their wives. His thought is founded upon the demonstrated interplay between the persons of the Trinity. I appreciate him including this section of the book. The way he presents the material is helpful and will make a difference in the way I care for my own dear wife.

Having noted all of the above points as good and profitable portions of Ware’s book, let’s move on to a couple of problematic propositions.

The Bad

I was surprised to find what Ware has written concerning Christian prayer and Christian worship as it relates to the Trinity. Prayer and worship sit squarely in the practice of the daily Christian walk. Several other areas Ware explores in the book are experiential, but none of them have the kind of deep impact that prayer and worship have in the life of the believer.

Prayer

Ware is deeply committed to the form of prayer prescribed by Jesus for the disciples in Matt 6/Luke 11. He emphasizes this form early in the work and repeats it often throughout the book. The repetition makes it obvious that this is a strong current in Ware’s theology. In a nutshell, Ware believes Christian prayer is directed to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Spirit. Period.

Ware recognizes the radical nature of his position, identifying it as such in his first mention on page 18. Even though this is his initial presentation, it is phrased in very strong language. He exerts himself to bring home the controversial nature of his position. He writes the following:

“The Christian’s life of prayer must rightly acknowledge the roles of the Father, Son, and Spirit as we pray to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Spirit. … May I suggest something both clear and radical? If Jesus taught us to pray to the Father, then we ought to do this. … So prayer rightly understood – Christian prayer – is prayer to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Spirit. To pray aright, we need a deep appreciation for the doctrine of the Trinity.” p.18

I agree with Ware on two points. His position is both clear and radical. In the face of such radical clarity, should we adapt our devotional life to fit Ware’s definition of Christian prayer? After all, he is an established Christian scholar and seminary professor. It is obvious that he possesses the training and credentials to form a powerful case for his position. Nonetheless, in my years of research and observation of pseudo-Christian cults, I have constantly encountered hundreds of clear, radical beliefs. We clearly must ask the question, “Is this biblical?” Clear? Yes. Radical? Absolutely. Biblical? (spoiler alert) Absolutely not.
Ware understands well enough that he is setting himself in opposition to the devotional instruction and example that many (probably most) evangelicals have received. He writes, “We may encourage our children, especially, to open their prayers with, ‘Dear Jesus,’ despite the fact that Jesus said to pray ‘Our Father in heaven . . .'”. Let’s be clear about this. Ware isn’t suggesting a slight modification to the prayer life of the evangelical Christian, where we address the Father or the Son. He rejects prayer to Christ as Christian prayer; as praying aright; and as meaningful, biblical prayer. He explicitly states that addressing our prayers to the Father alone is to pray aright. If adherence to this position is to pray aright, then stepping outside of it is to pray awrong. Ware indicts modern evangelical piety head-on. In doing so, has he indicted biblical prayer as well?

Stephen – The First Christian Martyr

And they went on stoning Stephen as he called upon the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” And falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” And having said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59-60, NASB)

The Disciples When Replacing Judas Iscariot

And they prayed, and said, “Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two Thou hast chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship
from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place. ” (Acts 1:24-25, NASB)

Saul’s Thorn in the Flesh

Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Corinthians 12:8-9, NASB)

Christ Answers Prayer Directed to Him

“And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14, NASB)

Paul Entreats Jesus

Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also do for you; (1 Thessalonians 3:11-12, NASB)

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, NASB)

The Last Prayer in the Bible

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:20, NASB)

A Biblical View

The above is a sample of the examples. They provide ample biblical evidence that Christian prayer may be directed to Christ and not solely to the Father in Christ’s name. Ware’s view is clear, radical, and unbiblical. There is a sense in which Ware’s rebuke of evangelical practice is proper. By and large, evangelical Christians appear to function as ‘Jesus only’ unitarians. We overemphasize Jesus and hold the Father at arms’ length. As a corrective to this imbalanced piety, Ware is on target that a faulty understanding of the Trinity drives us away from the Father in our devotional life. It would be a much easier pill to swallow if Ware did not employ such stark language contrasting typical practice with his radical suggestion. If his goal was to encourage us to return to addressing the Father in concert with the Son, there was no need for the extreme contrast. Due to the fact he uses such contrast, this was obviously not his simple goal. He is intentional enough in what he has said to make it clear he is proposing a complete reformation of evangelical prayer.

James White addresses the evangelical ‘Jesus only’ prayer life in his book The Forgotten Trinity with as much clarity as Ware but without adopting the radical position Ware has taken up. I heartily recommend White’s book on the Trinity as a fine starting point to understanding the Trinity and its necessary impact on all aspects of our life, faith, piety, and practice. It is a fuller treatment of the Trinity than Ware’s book. Granted, Ware is focusing on specific aspects of the Trinity, which again indicates that his book is not the place for the committed reader to begin studying the Trinity.

The Normal Pattern
When you survey the pattern of prayer demonstrated in the New Testament, you will find that most prayers are directed to the Father. Ware pushes us towards this biblical model of prayer, but he does so too forcefully. We would all benefit from cultivating our devotional relationship with the Father but this does not justify making a case appear stronger than it is. If only Ware would have approached this imbalance in a balanced manner, he may have had a much more positive and wide ranging impact. Imbalance is not corrected by another imbalance.

Concerning Worship
Ware states:

“Hence, Christian worship must be worship of the Son, by the power of the Spirit, to the ultimate glory of the Father. Worship is deeply satisfying and correctly expressed to the glory of this triune God only as it is exercised within this trinitarian framework” (p.155)

In approaching the topic of worship, Ware again falls into language that is too strong and imbalanced. “Christian worship must be worship of the Son”? I believe Ware is less than coherent on this point. Jesus gave explicit instruction in Luke 4:8 concerning worship of God that is unreconcilable with his instruction to the woman at the well in John 4:21-24 if we adopt Ware’s position. It feels as if Ware has made a similar error in thinking as he made with prayer. In offering a corrective to an imbalance in current practice, he goes too far and ends up out on a theological limb.

Worship and prayer are related. Many theologians consider prayer to be an act of worship. If Christian prayer (a form of worship) is to be directed to the Father alone and Christian worship (which would include prayer) is to be directed to the Son alone, we are stuck in a theological conundrum. Can we do either in a Christian fashion in the construct Ware has built? This is not theology that leads to doxology. It is theology that leads to paralysis. Other sections of the book do bring us to live as we should. The intermingled doctrines of prayer and worship as presented do not lead us to the same destination.

Not only have I been surprised at Ware’s position on prayer/worship, I am perplexed at the unqualified recommendations that internet reviewers have given the book. Brothers and sisters, are you reading carefully? While I agree that Ware has many profitable things to say, they pale in comparison to the potential damage caused by his unbalanced and contradictory positions on prayer and worship. This error is the kind of minefield that could blow apart a local church. Has anyone become convinced by Ware’s argument that prayer must be offered to the Father alone through Christ? If so, a balanced biblically-based worship service would be akin to scraping your forehead with a cheese grater. If the church has been protected wholesale by God’s grace from falling into this error, I am thankful for His outpoured mercy.

So what is my overall opinion of the book? Although Ware presents several helpful points which will make a difference in my life, the deep impact of his position on prayer/worship gives me great concern.

For Further Study Concerning Prayer to Christ
Millard Erickson
God in Three Persons
The Word Became Flesh

H. R. Mackintosh
The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus Christ

Robert Morey
The Trinity: Evidence and Issues

Simon Kistemaker
New Testament Commentary – Acts, I Corinthians

Gordon Fee
New International Commentary on the New Testament, I Corinthians

John Calvin
Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles


Robert Reymond
A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith

B. B. Warfield
The Lord of Glory

John Owen
Christologia

Wayne Grudem
Systematic Theology

Charles Hodge
Systematic Theology, vol II

Bruce Milne
Know the Truth

Robert Dabney
Lectures in Systematic Theology

Leon Morris
Reflections on the Gospel of John
Jesus is the Christ

Jerome Smith
The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Acts 7:58-59

Rob Bowman In Discussions with former Mormon Shawn McCraney

Dear Friends of CRandE and Rob Bowman:  Please be in prayer today for Rob and Shawn McCraney. Rob has shared the following update earlier today. The livestream of the program starts at 8pm MST tonight.

From Rob Bowman on his facebook page: ‘Tonight (2/25/14), I will be a guest on the TV program “Heart of the Matter,” hosted by Shawn McCraney. Shawn is a former Mormon who became a born-again Christian and now leads an informal church in Salt Lake City. Shawn recently did a couple of programs disparaging the doctrine of the Trinity, in response to which I flew out to Salt Lake City yesterday to meet with him. We talked for four hours yesterday and are planning a similar meeting tomorrow. Tonight I am expecting to answer some questions about the doctrine of the Trinity on his live streaming broadcast: http://hotm.tv/. The situation with Shawn is complicated and difficult for a number of reasons. I would appreciate the prayers of my Christian friends for the program tonight and also my personal conversations with Shawn.’

Fred Sanders on the Trinity

 Fred Sanders, Associate Professor, Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University and author of The Deep Things of God, presented several sessions for the EFCA 2014 Theology conference, focusing primarily on the Trinity. The audio and outlines are linked below. 


















  • Approaching the Doctrine of the Trinity, pre-conference session (Audio) (Notebook outline)
  • God According to the Gospel, pre-conference session (Audio) (Notebook outline)
  • Tacit Trinitarianism and Q & A, pre-conference session (Audio) (Notebook outline)
  • The Truth and Reality of the Trinity Affects Everything, pre-conference breakout session (Audio)
  • Understanding the Times and Understanding the Places: Theological Localism (Audio) (Notebook outline)

Carl Trueman: A Brief History of Trinitarian Thought – John Owen

In my apologetics studies, the Trinity continually surfaces as a critical doctrine, impacting belief and practice in every aspect. Studying the historical background of Christian thought on the Trinity will help you grow in your sense of wonder at the profound nature of the God of Scripture.  Here is an opportunity to be exposed to some of this historical background.

John Owen

John Owen is a very important theologian in the history of the church. In the following link, Historical Theology Prof Carl Trueman explains the impact that Owen has had on understanding the nature of our Triune God. 

Click here to listen to Reformed Forum – Christ the Center

Carl Trueman

Trueman specifically highlights the contribution of Owen to Trinitarian theology and practice with his emphasis on the believer’s communion with each person of the Godhead and Owen’s understanding of the Holy Spirit as the bond of communion and communication between the divine and human natures of the one person of Jesus Christ. Listeners will go away from this episode with a renewed appreciation for the importance of understanding the God of Scripture as Triune.

A Brief History of Trinitarian Thought

The Trinity is a great doctrine which evangelicals would do well to spend more energy on (including myself).  As an encouragement for you, the following link will take you to an hour-long discussion on the history of Trinitarian thought, hosted by Reformed Forum.  The dialogue includes Dr. Carl Trueman, Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Seminary. This is an academic introduction so is a bit of heavy lifting at times. 
A description of the program and the audio can be found here.  Or you can jump directly to the audio file by clicking here.
HT: FBH

The Great Trinity Debate: Bowman & Burke

Evangelical Rob Bowman and Christadelphian Dave Burke have completed their debate of the nature of God on the Parchment and Pen blog. Below are their posts collected in summary form to help you follow the discussion from beginning to end.

Preliminaries

Part 1 – On God and Scripture

Part 2 – On Jesus Christ

Part 3 – On Jesus Christ, continued

Part 4 – On The Holy Spirit

Part 5 – On The Trinity

Part 6 – Closing Statements

Putting Jesus In His Place

Jeff Miller gives a helpful review of Bowman’s and Komoszewski’s book Putting Jesus In His Place. Obviously, I think this is a book worth reading. I’ve read it through entirely once and have returned to it multiple times on specific questions. The HANDS acronym has stuck with me and serves to turn my mind towards contemplation of Jesus in worship and wonder.

Trueman on Owen Redux

Here’s a little more helpful info on Trueman’s introduction to Owen. Trueman presses one specific work of Owen for your initial consideration. It is Communion with the Triune God. This is a light editing by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor of Owen’s Of Communion with God.

In his video introduction, Trueman mentions the struggle many Christians have to understand the importance and impact of the doctrine of the Trinity on their everyday spiritual and devotional life. Owen’s work explores the right relationship of the Christian to the one true God considered in the individual persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

You can read Kevin Vanhoozer’s Foreword, Justin Taylor’s Note on This Edition, Preface, Chapter 1, and Glossary PDF.

Reality Check… this is not Owen lite. Reading him is hard work. Why bother? You will be better equipped to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.


Jesus Our Mediator – Reflections from Abraham Booth

Taken from chapter 11 of Abraham Booth’s The Reign of Grace. Booth writes concerning the person of Christ in his atoning work.

“It was absolutely necessary also, that our Mediator and Surety should be God as well as man. For as he could neither have obeyed, nor suffered, if he had not possessed a created nature; so, had he been a mere man, however immaculate, he could not have redeemed one soul. Nay, though he had possessed the highest possible created excellencies, they would not have been sufficient; because he would still have been a dependent being. For as it is essential to Deity, to be underived and self-existent; so it is essential to a creature, to be derived and dependent. The loftiest seraph that sings in glory is as really dependent on God, every moment of his existence, as the meanest worm that crawls. In this respect, an angel and an insect are on a level. Every intelligent creature, therefore, whether human or angelic, having received existence from the Almighty, and being continually dependent on him, as the all-producing, all-supporting first cause; must be obliged to perpetual obedience, by virtue of that relation in which he stands to God, as his Maker and Preserver. It is highly absurd to suppose it possible for any creature to supererogate, or to do more in a way of obedience to Him from whom his all was received, than he is under the strongest obligations to perform, in consequence of his absolute and universal dependence. But whatever is previously due from any one, on his own account, cannot be transferred to another, without rendering the first devoid of that obedience which it is absolutely necessary for him to have. Universal obedience, in every possible instance, is so necessary in a rational creature, as such, being dependent on God and created for his glory, that the omission of it, in any degree, would not only be criminal, but expose to everlasting ruin.

The righteousness, therefore, of a mere creature, however highly exalted, could not have been accepted by the Great Supreme, as any compensation for our obedience. Because whoever undertakes to perform a vicarious righteousness, must be one who is not obliged to obedience on his own account. Consequently, our Surety must be a Divine Person; for every mere creature is under indispensable obligations to perfect and perpetual obedience. Now, as our situation required, so the gospel reveals, a Mediator and Substitute thus exalted and glorious. For Jesus is described as a Divine Person, as one who could, without any arrogance, or the least disloyalty, claim independence; and, when thus considered, he appears fit for the task. But of such an One we could have had no idea, without that distinction of Persons in the Godhead which the Scriptures reveal. Agreeably to this distinction, we behold the rights of Deity asserted and vindicated, with infinite majesty and authority, in the person of the Father; while we view every Divine perfection displayed and honoured, in the most illustrious manner, by the amazing condescension of the eternal Son: By the humiliation of Him who, in his lowest state of subjection, could claim an equality with God. Such being the dignity of our wonderful Sponsor, it was by his own voluntary condescension that he became incarnate, and took upon him the form of a servant. By the same free act of his will he was made under the law, to perform that obedience in our stead, to which, as a Divine Person, he was no way obliged.

The necessity there was that our Surety should be a Divine Person, might be further proved, by considering the infinite evil there is in sin. That sin is an infinite evil, appears from hence. Every crime is more or less heinous, in proportion as we are under obligations to the contrary. For the criminality of any disposition, or action, consists in a contrariety to what we ought to possess, or perform. If, therefore, we hate, disobey, or dishonour any person, the sin is always proportional to the obligations we are under to love, to honour, and to obey him. Now the obligations we are under to love, to honour, and to obey any person, are in proportion to his loveliness, his dignity, and his authority. Of this, none can doubt. If then infinite beauty, dignity, and authority belong to the immensely glorious God; we must be under equal obligations to love, to honour, and to obey him; and a contrary conduct must be infinitely criminal. Sin, therefore, is a violation of infinite obligation to duty; consequently an unlimited evil, and deserving of infinite punishment. Such being the nature of our offences, and of the aggravations attending them, we stand in absolute need of a surety, the worth of whose obedience and sufferings should be equal to the unworthiness of our persons, and to the demerit of our disobedience. If to the evil there is in every sin, we take into consideration the vast number of sinners that were to be redeemed; the countless millions of enormous crimes that were to be expiated; and the infinite weight of Divine wrath that was to be sustained; all which were to be completed in a limited and short time, in order to reconcile man to God, and to effect his eternal salvation; we shall have still stronger evidence in proof of the point.

Were a defence of the proper Deity of Christ my intention, the Scriptures would furnish me with ample matter and abundant evidence in favour of the capital truth. For the names that he bears, the perfections ascribed to him, the works he has done, and the honours he has received, loudly proclaim his ETERNAL DIVINITY. But I wave the attempt, and proceed to observe,

That it was necessary our Surety should be God and man, in unity of person. This necessity arises from the nature of his work; which is that of a Mediator between God, the offended Sovereign, and man, the offending subject. If he had not been a partaker of the Divine nature, he could not have been qualified to treat with God; if not of the human, he would not have been fitted to treat with man. Deity alone was too high to treat with man; humanity alone was too low to treat with God. The eternal Son therefore assumed our nature, that he might become a middle person; and so be rendered capable of laying his hands upon both, (Job 9:33) and of bringing them into a state of perfect friendship. He could not have been a mediator, in regard to his office, if he had not been a middle-person, in respect of his natures. Such is the constitution of his wonderful person, and hence he is called IMMANUEL God with us, or in our nature.”