What Would Augustine Say To Evangelicals Who Reject The Eternal Generation Of The Son? -- By: Keith E. Johnson

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 16:2 (Summer 2012)
Article: What Would Augustine Say To Evangelicals Who Reject The Eternal Generation Of The Son?
Author: Keith E. Johnson

What Would Augustine Say To Evangelicals Who Reject The Eternal Generation Of The Son?

Keith E. Johnson

Keith E. Johnson serves as the director of theological education for Campus Crusade for Christ.

In this capacity, he oversees the formal theological training of five thousand fulltime staff. Dr. Johnson has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology and Ethics from Duke University, and he also serves as a guest professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando). He is the author of Rethinking the Trinity and Religious Pluralism: An Augustinian Assessment (IVP Academic, 2011).

The early church confessed that Jesus Christ is both consubstantial with and distinct from the Father.1 The doctrine of the “eternal generation” played an important role in affirming both elements. This doctrine teaches that the Father eternally, necessarily, and incomprehensibly communicates2 the divine essence to the Son without division or change so that the Son shares an equality of nature with the Father yet is also distinct from the Father.3 Biblical evidence for eternal generation can be seen in the unique way Scripture presents the Father/ Son relationship (especially in the Gospel of John).

Although the eternal generation of the Son is affirmed by all pro-Nicene theologians and included in early ecumenical creeds (as well a s many post-Reformation confessions), this doctrine has been rejected as speculative, unbiblical, and philosophically problematic by several prominent evangelical theologians. 4As one theologian explains, “It appears to me that the concept of eternal generation does not have biblical warrant and does not make sense philosophically. As such, we should eliminate it from theological discussions of the Trinity.”5

The purpose of this essay is to make a constructive case for the eternal generation of the Son by considering how Augustine of Hippo might respond to contemporary critics of this doctrine. In conversation with Augustine, I will argue that “eternal generation”—properly construed—provides a helpful way of explicating biblical teaching regarding the relationship of the Son to the Father and should be seen as an integral element of an evangelical doctrine of the Trinity.

Why Augustine? Not only is Augustine’s teaching on the Trinity by far the most influential in the history of the West,6 but despite popular portrayals to...

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