Dr. Sam Waldron has been posting a thought-provoking series of blog entries dealing with the subjects of the Monarchy of the Father & the Eternal Generation of the Son. You can read them here:
I believe that (1) significant problems have developed among evangelicals since the Enlightenment on the doctrine of the Trinity, (2) these problems directly contributed to an egalitarian or equivalentist view of the Trinity, (3) an understanding of the historical Trinitarianism articulated in the Nicene Creed and its massive, abiding, biblical basis supports the doctrine of eternal generation, (4) the Nicene doctrine of eternal generation is the historical and biblical basis for holding what is (perhaps a little clumsily) called by recent theologians the eternal, functional subordination of the Son, (5) the eternal functional subordination of the Son is consistent with His full and undiluted deity, and finally (6) this Nicene doctrine of Trinity undercuts the fundamental premise of Egalitarianism that equality of nature and subordination of role are inconsistent.
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!
I suspect that many evangelicals today would choke on the very first words of the Nicene Creed—if they are really thought about what they were confessing. Here is the first paragraph of the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”
How far many of us have drifted from historic Trinitarianism is revealed by how queasy these words make us feel when we think about. “Surely,” we think, “The Son is also the Maker of heaven and earth. And does the Nicene Creed really mean to say that there is some distinct sense that we are to identify the Father as God? Does this imply that the Son and Spirit are not God?”
If these kinds of questions and concerns come to us when we really think about what we are confessing in the Nicene Creed, it should make us wonder if we have really understood and whether we entirely hold the historic Trinitarian creed. So what are we missing?
We may be troubled by passages that identify the Father as “the one true God.” Historic Trinitarianism was not. This was because it understood the doctrine sometimes called the monarchy of the Father. While each of the persons of the Trinity possess the entire divine essence and are from their standpoint of their essence self-existent, the same thing is not true for the persons of the Trinity. Each person is eternal but in Nicene Trinitarianism the persons of the Son and Spirit originate from the Father. Thus, later in the Creed it is affirmed that both the persons of the Son and Spirit eternally come from or are derived from the person of the Father. Of the Son it is affirmed that He 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.” Of the Spirit it is affirmed that He “proceedeth from the Father.” This Nicene doctrine is sometimes called the monarchy of the Father. The term, monarchy, has a meaning which is a little foreign to us. It is Greek and is derived from two words: monos = one or sole and archei = origin or ruler. The Father is one origin of the persons of the Trinity. Thus, the unity of Godhead has a twofold basis. It is grounded both in the unity of the divine essence and in the eternal derivation of the other divine persons from the Father.
If all this seems strange and “Eastern,” it should not. It was the doctrine of Calvin himself.
The immediate objection which students of mine have made to this doctrine over the years is that it implies that the Son is not eternal. They have difficulty putting the concepts of derivation and eternity together. However we may further respond to this natural objection, it is clear that the Nicene Creed had no difficulty in putting these two concepts together. It does so explicitly in the words which follow those we have been discussing: “begotten of the Father before all worlds.” The intent of these words is to stress that the generation of the Son is not temporal (taking place in time), but eternal (taking place before all worlds—the ages of space-time existence.)
All Christians, including Erickson and the Egalitarians, believe that there is subordination in the economy of redemption. We may call this economic subordination. Their mistake is that they think there is only one other kind of subordination—subordination of essence or essential subordination. While they correctly see this kind of subordination to be wrong and false, they do not realize that this is not the kind of subordination implied in the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed actually teaches a third kind of subordination. It is neither economic nor essential subordination. It is the subordination of the persons of the Son and Spirit to the Father. Since the Greek word used to describe a real, personal distinction in the Trinity is hypostasis, we may call this personal or hypostatic subordination. Personal or hypostatic subordination is entirely different than the essential subordination of the Logos Speculation or Logos Christology.