There is a growing fracture between the more classical reformed and Neo-Calvinists over the trinity. The question being raised…is what Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware teaching heresy? Al Mohler wrote a column recently in which he defended Grudem. This post draws upon my own personal exposure to Mormonism when I was in college, and seeks to remind people that individuals engaged in heresy seldom proclaim it.
“Though we have rightly applauded our ancestors for their spiritual achievements…those of us who prevail today will have done no small thing.”
Mormon Apostle Neal Maxwell
“The doctrine of Christ and of the apostles from which the true faith of the primitive church was received, the apostles at first delivered orally, without writing, but later, not by any human counsel but by the will of God, they handed it on in the Scriptures.”
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
2 Timothy 4:2-4 NIV
Gospel Principles Sunday School Book in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, published 1991. This was my Sunday School book which I never tossed.
I still remember it like it was this morning. It happened in a Sunday school class in one of the Wards in Helena, Montana. It was in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The class was Gospel Doctrine after all the Mormons are very focused on doctrine and its of deep significance to them. From their perspective its especially important as the Gospel fell into apostasy and the Lord selected a young Joseph Smith in upstate New York to re-establish the Gospel. After all that the Gospel went through it was imperative that doctrine be key. After all “sound doctrine” keeps a person on the straight and narrow. I was looking into the Mormon faith at the time and while I had some struggles with it this 22 year old kid would probably be baptized into it one day.
For most of the time I looked into Mormonism I had heard both on the internet, from my parents and a Catholic priest that Mormons believed that they would become a God in heaven. “Garbage!” I thought, as the Mormons don’t believe that at all; when I asked Mormon missionaries about it they declined to answer me outright. Instead they told me I needed to stop reading “anti-Mormon” material and stick to what they gave me. There was a spiritual attack against me and I was in the process of working things out. One day I would be baptized and one day my name would be added to the roles of membership in Salt Lake City, Utah. But it was important I listened to the Mormon missionaries. There were times I blew when people told me I was getting involved in a cult. In response I would get angry, “How can these people be a cult? Look at how nice, caring and loving they are? Mormons are nicer than most Catholics and Protestants!” This brings us back to that Sunday school classroom in a Mormon Ward. I had been told a few times that Mormons don’t believe they are going to become a God. It was “anti-Mormon” material and after hearing that I believed the Mormons. So I sat in that classroom and there may have been about 10 people or so. We were gathered around the table, and the Sunday School teacher was instructing us on how we can become “like heavenly father.” I was baffled was I hearing that I could become like my heavenly father? Did that mean I was going to become a God? There must be a mistake as the Mormons had told me repeatedly that was not true. So I stopped the instruction and asked a question. It was something like this:
“Do you believe you are going to become a God in heaven?”
The room went silent and all eyes were upon me. The instructor looked at me, and then the Mormon missionaries. Suddenly, one of the Mormon missionaries who are known as Elders was sitting next to me in class. He leaned over and said something to the following effect. “Dave we need to talk there is a lot more we need to share..” I sat there in a leather chair if I recall correctly and it was like a light bulb had gone off. I was lied to! The Mormons lied to me. How the hell could this happen? All these times I was told to stop listening to “anti-Mormon” material and it was true. I eventually pushed back and you can read that account here. But there is one thing I wanted to hear from the Mormons for years after I parted ways and it was this fact. I wanted the Mormons I interacted with and knew to come up to me and say, “Dave we lied, the LDS faith has deep systematic issues. We taught it as truth and the truth is Joseph Smith is a fraud.” For years I wanted to hear that and for years I was angry that I did not. Then one day it hit me…the Mormons are never going to admit that. Why? If they do state that then the LDS faith comes crumbling down very quickly. The Mormons will never teach that Joseph Smith is a false prophet. That’s just how it is and I need to accept that fact. I learned in the process that false teachers and those engaged in heresy do not come out and state, “we’re a false teacher” or “we’re a false prophet.” They are sleeker and more disguised than what you would think. That’s just how it is, and I think that is why we are called to be discerning and to question often and frequently. Healthy faith systems and spiritual teachers do no fear questioning at all. Which brings us to the post about Wayne Grudem.
Al Mohler Writes about Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware and Defends them
There has been quite the dust up on the internet and the border skirmish is erupting into full scale war between some in the more classical reformed camp and the Neo-Cal camp over the trinity and complementarianism. The intensity is building and fractures are emerging. Liam Goligher wrote a post on Aimee Byrd’s blog called “On the Word “Heresy.” Al Mohler got into the debate when he wrote a piece called, “Heresy and Humility – Lessons from a Current Controversy.“ In this post Al says a number of things that I want to explain then I will write my response to it. Al starts out by declaring how he has dedicated his life to the danger of heresy.
I have spent my entire adult lifetime concerned with the danger of heresy. As a young theologian, I worked through the early centuries of church history and understood that knowing the difference between orthodox Christianity and heresy is really a matter of life and death for the church. A failure to recognize and refute heresy means disaster for the church and its witness to Christ.
He then goes on and talks about how many theologians fail to identify problems of heresy and the problems that came from liberal theology.
At the same time, I saw that two dangers quickly emerged. The first, and most dangerous, is the unwillingness of many modern theologians to acknowledge the reality and danger of heresy. Liberal theology denied the possibility of heresy and then openly embraced it. The second danger is like the fable of the boy who cried wolf. Some genuine doctrinal disagreements have nothing at all to do with the line between orthodoxy and heresy. Furthermore, not every false doctrine or theological error is a heresy.
Heresy is a denial or deviation from a doctrine central and essential to Christianity. Thus, the Christian church has learned through sad experience that heresy is a necessary category and a constant concern. In the early centuries of Christianity, church leaders had to define the true faith against false gospels and to defend biblical teachings concerning the most essential doctrines of all — the triune nature of God and the full deity and humanity of Christ.
He then goes on and gives a brief history of the councils which dealt with the trinity, deity and humanity of Christ. I won’t reprint the entire post here but you can go to his blog post and read it in its entirety. Actually I would encourage you to read it to get the full context. Then Al addresses the issue that has raged on the internet and in the Neo-Calvinist camp. It has to do with a dispute of complementarianism and Eternal Subordination of the Son theology. Read what Al Mohler says next:
Recently a bit of controversy has emerged with charges that some complementarians (those who hold to a biblical pattern of different roles for men and women) are flirting with a denial of the Nicene Creed (or of violating the classic pro-Nicene Trinitarian formulations rooted in the fourth century controversies) by arguing that the Son is eternally obedient to the Father. The trinitarian debate is quite complicated, but the challenges defined by Harold O. J. Brown and J. N. D. Kelly are very much to the point. Nicaea is foundational, but the creed does not answer all of our questions.
Clearly, there can be no eternal subordination in terms of being. That would deny what the Nicene Creed affirms and affirm what it denies. But describing the social dimensions of the Trinity is far more difficult. I decline to speculate where I am not authorized by Scripture to go, but there is something important to the fact that the Father is eternally the Father and the Son is eternally the Son. Affirming separate wills within the Trinity would be heresy, but we lack adequate human categories for understanding how exactly to define these doctrines comprehensively. God has not revealed some answers to us, and our finite minds cannot fully comprehend the infinite divine reality.
Then Al Mohler goes to bat for Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware on the claim that they are not orthodox and going against the Nicene Creed. He then goes on to state that this is a debate by some critics of complementarianism. Here’s what Al Mohler says:
Recent charges of violating the Nicene Creed made against respected evangelical theologians like Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware are not just nonsense — they are precisely the kind of nonsense that undermines orthodoxy and obscures real heresy. Their teachings do not in any way contradict the words of the Nicene Creed, and both theologians eagerly affirm it. I do not share their proposals concerning the eternal submission of the Son to the Father, but I am well aware that nothing they have taught even resembles the heresy of the Arians. To the contrary, both theologians affirm the full scope of orthodox Christianity and have proved themselves faithful teachers of the church. These charges are baseless, reckless, and unworthy of those who have made them.
Theologians almost never agree on every issue, nor is such agreement possible. What is required is absolute fidelity to Scripture and valid affirmation of the fundamental creeds of the Church, along with specific denominational and institutional confessions. Complementarianism need not be linked doctrinally to eternal submission, and it is in no way required by the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Clearly, for some of these current critics, complementarianism appears to be the real issue. For others, a rejection of modern evangelicalism seems to be the underlying concern. Whatever the case, they endanger the very orthodoxy they claim to champion by making reckless charges they cannot possibly sustain.
Al Mohler in the last paragraph claims that deep historical issues are at stake. He then calls for cooler heads to prevail, fraternal kindness and clear thinking to prevail. There is much I want to say in response to what Al Mohler says.
Playing the Liberal Card
Today’s post is going to be a follow up to an article I wrote about Wayne Grudem recently. That post is called “Wayne Grudem’s Un-Orthodox View of the Trinity and the Question that Must Be Asked: Can the ESV Bible be Trusted?” Note in Mohler’s article he talks about the threat of liberal theology and there is some strong pushback that I need to state here. While I believe its true that liberal theologians and theology systems can introduce heretical problems they by themselves are not the only ones. Its far overdue that the evangelical church have an honest and bona fide debate on how the extreme conservative side can introduce faulty theology as well. What happens is that one side keeps moving to the right, and going farther, and farther and farther in the course of time. Soon they are way beyond the classical version of theology. Or in the case of the SBC I would suggest that the Neo-Calvinist wing is doing nothing but overreacting to culture and that some like Al Mohler do not have the means to engage in culture. Instead from a distance they need to use it as a weapon to drum up the masses. But the problem that exists today is that the church has forgotten that heresy can come from both ends of the spectrum. Today we are witnessing this happening from the conservative side of the house.
There is another point I need to state as well. Many evangelicals often use the word liberal or “emergent” as a tactic to shut down people who they disagree with. Of course the people who disagree can be very conservative and hold to a belief of inerrancy for some, or hell or other issues that they firmly believe to be true. But they may have a differing take on complementarianism, or they may have a slightly different take on a secondary issue. What often happens is that some people are playing the liberal card or make the claim that someone is “emergent” to end the discussion and silence them. Its a major problem and it needs to be called out. How can you have any kind of discussion or when people start to claim that someone is liberal or promoting liberal theology. There are some pretty conservative people who have been adversely affected by this move. After all it comes down to the following…how do you define liberal theology? With how Al Mohler operates he can effectively classify some pretty conservative individuals as liberals. So we need to remember that this is a tactic. It was a tactic in the “conservative resurgence” in the SBC (which I would suggest was nothing more than a power grab of a coup worthy of something you would see in Central America) which basically worked. But that doesn’t mean it has to be honored.
The Heresy Issue that Needs to be Stated
There is anther point that I feel needs to be raised as well in regards to Al Mohler and what he suggests in his article. Mohler goes to bat for Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware. After all he has to, as he is very invested in them and tied to the hip theologically. The problem is that Al Mohler is doing what the Mormons do when they are challenged. They downplay, dismiss, or skirt the issue and say “that is not the case you must have misunderstood.”
Wayne Grudem needs to be called out for what he is…Wayne is engaged in heresy and destabilizing the Christian faith.
What does it say when many people rally around the likes of Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware? It means that too many people have placed these individuals on pedestals and have ceased thinking for themselves. But here is the problem and please understand I am writing this after what I learned from my previous involvement in Mormonism. Individuals engaged in promoting heretical doctrine do not come out and say, “Hey I am promoting false doctrine or heresy!” False teachers and people who do that do not have that modus operandi. Joseph Smith did not operate like that and neither will Wayne Grudem or Bruce Ware. People who are engaged in false teaching can be the nicest, most sincere, and appear to have “sound doctrine” and “Biblical theology.” But in the end do they? Wayne Grudem is redefining the trinity as are the Neo-Calvinists to advocate for a more hardcore version of complementarianism. Finally however the more traditional reformed camp are calling them out. Its about time, and its overdue. I got the feeling that Al Mohler was caught with his trousers down, and that he is pretty ticked. Did he in his wildest imagination ever imagine that he would have an insurrection challenging his theology and his doctrine? After all when you want to control the masses and indoctrinate you go for the education systems. That is what the Taliban have done in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and its what has happened at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. However, there are times you draw lines in the sand, as there are times you put your foot down and say no. That is happening now. The issue of the trinity was solved in prior church councils and history and Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware and similar individuals are challenging that and going against orthodox doctrine.
In other more simple words let me state this…Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware are engaging in heresy. That’s all they are doing. Now should we be surprised to be seeing this rear its ugly head? Not at all…after all Ecclesiastes states that there is nothing new under the sun, and neither is bad doctrine. I believe we are starting to see fractures in the Neo-Calvinist camp which shows that all is not well. They are not all on the same page, they have diverse theology and some are wrestling with a basic understanding of complex and essential truths, and in the process they are twisting it. This also goes to state that all readers and people out there need to weigh and asses for themselves. Here at this blog I want to challenge you to think for yourself, and weigh what I say. I have no problem with pushback or differing views. Its important that happen as I don’t take offense to you doing that at all. As always please know that I love you!