About Providence, Divine Action and the Church

In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Stephen Holmes on the Trinity: Is He Correct? Part II

Yesterday, at Spurgeon’s College, Graham Watts presented a paper entitled ‘Stephen Holmes on the Trinity: Is Modern Trinitarian Theology a Revival or a Repudiation of Fourth Century Settlements?’

In the paper, Watts focused on the relationship between God and creation, and outlined the theology of T.F. Torrance and Wolfhart Pannenberg on this all-embracing theme. Essentially, Watts argued that Holmes was right to criticise Pannenberg, but not Torrance. Moreover, Watts made much of Torrance’s notion that it’s each person of the Trinity in relation to one another, and not the Father alone, that constitutes the Trinity. Or, in other words, it’s not the Father alone that is the cause or the archÄ“ of the divine being, but the Trinity. Watts suggested that more careful readings of Torrance need to be undertaken.

As is my custom when listening to papers, I latched onto a number of particular things rather than the overall argument. First, says Watts, apparently Holmes has indicated that he does not see – or no longer sees – a necessary link between the Trinity and ecclesiology. This suggests to me something very similar to the line of thought that sees no necessary link between the relations within the Trinity and male/female relationships in the Church or in families. Secondly, as part of his paper, Watts advocated the need for greater attention to be paid to Reformation discussions of Christology, for he suspects that the difference between Lutherans and the Reformed on the extra calvinisticum is behind many of today’s social trinitarianism models. However, I’d need to read Watt’s paper to appreciate this point fully (on the paper’s publication, see below). Thirdly, following Torrance, Watts is convinced that Athanasius, etc., knew what they were doing when they employed ‘Christianised’ Hellenistic terminology, and so we ought not to discard fourth-century theology. And finally, focussing solely on God in relation to the world risks connecting God only to created history, with the potential entrapment of God in created structures this perhaps entails.

At the beginning of the session, Watts said that the paper is part of a book planned for publication by Paternoster in 2014. He offered no more details, but it sounded to me that the whole book was a response to Holmes’s The Holy Trinity. As with so many things, I could be wrong on this front! Regardless, if you’re able eventually to read Watts’s paper, you won’t be wasting your time.


  1. "Or, in other words, it’s not the Father alone that is the cause or the archÄ“ of the divine being, but the Trinity."

    I disagree with any reference to "cause" in regards to the eternal relationships within the Trinity. The uncreated nature of God and the eternal relationships within the Trinity are uncaused.


  2. I believe the point is simply that the triune God is the cause or source of the triune God, rather than the Father being the cause or source of the Son and the Spirit. The language of causation may be unhelpful, but I don't think 'source' is.

  3. I suppose the term "source" with careful definition is helpful. If I correctly understand this, I agree with Watts and Torrance that the Father is not the source of the Son and Holy Spirit, which I suppose is tantamount to rejecting the ancient doctrines of eternal generation and eternal procession.

  4. Or I suppose somebody could try to say that eternal generation and eternal procession has nothing to do with the Father being the source of the Son and Holy Spirit. I better read the paper before getting carried away with this :-)

  5. Well, I don't think Watts was arguing for anything new as such. He was more arguing that there's a lot in Torrance that needs to be appreciated. So if you can't wait to read Watts's paper, you could always get a head start and begin reading Torrance!

  6. I quickly found a some of Torrance and he definitely supports the Nicene model of eternal generation. So if he says that the Father is not the source of the Trinity, then Torrance merely rejects models of eternal generation that say that the Father is the source of Son and Holy Spirit, which I think is a good idea.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.