Digging In The Mud
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables (2 Timothy 4:3,4).
No one who denies the Son has the Father (1 John 2:23).
Departing from the faith is an ever present danger. False teachers are everywhere and their ability to sow the seeds of error, even among those who ought to know better, can never be underestimated. However, I would have thought that for Christians everywhere the essential deity of Christ was an issue that was beyond dispute. Silly me. God is, after all, three Persons of one essence or substance; not three Persons of three essences or substances. So why would some men who profess to be Christians say that: “The Father is divine of Himself. The Son and Spirit are divine in virtue of the communication of a divine essence from the Father to them in eternal generation and procession.” And, “the meaning of ‘God’ is peculiar to the Father in the sense He alone is auto-theos. The other persons are subordinate to the Father, not because they have inferior divine natures, but because they possess their divine natures on account of the Father.” Or, more simply; “The Son and Spirit are not ‘autotheos.'” Certainly, Jesus Christ is autotheos, divine of Himself. From Jesus’ confession that he is the self-existent I AM and the Almighty Jehovah of the Old Testament, to John’s insistence that the Word was God and dwelt among us, to doubting Thomas’ confession that Jesus is his Lord and His God, even to Jesus’ own testimony that he is the Alpha and the Omega of Revelation, the biblical and exegetical evidence is overwhelming that Jesus Christ is very God of very God. Yet, it seems that some men, even those calling themselves Christian Scripturalists, think all this is doubtful and Jesus’ confessions concerning his own essential equality with the Father are really confessions of the Father’s unique divine nature and who alone can properly be called God.
I first stumbled on this strange subordinationism where the Son is said to derive his divine essence from the Father as He lacks self-existence in himself on a supposedly “Clark” Facebook discussion page in series of posts by Ryan Hedrich. I should add that Hedrich is a former Trinity Foundation Worldview Contest winner. However, the theory he is advancing is not unique to Hedrich as he picked it up from Drake Shelton who has evidently been very busy sowing the seeds of an 18th century Unitarian subordinanist heresy for quite some time, along with some other very rotten seeds.
So, given Hedrich’s interest in this unusual theology, I stopped by Shelton’s blog “Uncreated Light.” I confess I have not spent much time on Shelton’s blog, and when I have it was usually the result of someone sending me a link while commenting on what a loon he is. However, in addition to his usual theological lunacy, I was shocked at the depth Shelton’s pathological hatred and bitter racism and I don’t shock easily. Given the sheer number of Shelton’s racist screeds on his blog it amazed me that any Christian, let alone anyone calling themselves a “Scriptularist,” would spend any time actually searching this site for some digestible kernel buried in so much dung. After all, John Robbins warned his readers about the resurgence of racism cloaked the guise of Christianity in his piece “Christians and the Civil War.” John wrote:
Living in the South for the past ten years has made it clear to me that many citizens of the South, even in the 21st century, are still fighting a guerrilla war with disinformation, wishful thinking, and propaganda. Some of these Latter Day Confederates seem to be people who were born and reared in the North and now feel they must prove their fidelity to the Lost Cause. Apparently their Northern roots have given them a guilty conscience. What is worse, many of these men profess to be Christians and mix their religion with their love for the Confederacy, making the two inseparable. … Because of this compound of Confederate ideology and counterfeit Christianity, a lot of hooey has been written, published, and reprinted about the Christian nobility and character of the Old South. Even Presbyterian Robert L. Dabney’s 1867 book Defense of Virginia and the South, which purports to defend Southern slavery from the Bible, has been reprinted. This embarrassing and inexcusable association of Christian theology with Southern slavery has been a stain on Christianity in the South and a hindrance to the proclamation of the Gospel for two centuries.
Needless to say, and a short perusal of “Uncreated Light” will bear this out, Shelton has been following in this detestable tradition for some time. Here’s a sample from just one of Shelton’s hate filled posts that are littered throughout his blog:
My white Southern reader, your government does not want you to identify with your Ancestors. It doesn’t want you to read their history and understand that they were being murdered by the hundreds of thousands in Europe before they fled here to North America. It doesn’t want you to know that later they were murdered, raped and pillaged for decades under this Yankee Government…. And it sure doesn’t want you to know that the Multi-Cultural Integration that you experience today was forced on your parents or your grandparents at the end of a Bayonet.
No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You are to be Negroized. Your ancestors demonized and their history twisted and scarred, all for one purpose: To turn the greatest Protestant lands, the most powerful enemy of the Roman Catholic Church, into an impoverished, negroized, atheistized, savagized body of confused ignorant political slaves.
What is worse is that Shelton has even setup a phony website purporting to be a “Scripturalist” church, complete with an image of Gordon Clark prominently displayed where he writes:
The Protestant Scripturalist Church of Louisville is not only intended to nurture individual souls for Christ, it is meant to rescue and preserve the Anglo-Protestant Culture. Since before the Civil War, we have seen an all out attack on our way of life and on the peoples who rescued the world from Roman Catholic tyranny… A Protestant, on the other hand, rejects global government in the pursuit of a divinely ordained Nationalism governed by indigenous or ethnic peoples striving to maintain their distinct ancient cultures.
I have to think Trinity Foundation lawyers might have something to say about having Clark’s name and image associated with such a vile man and his website even claiming to be a Christian church (of course, it’s probably news to Shelton that a webpage does not a church make).
This has all been a roundabout way to see if Ryan Hedrich was able to find any edibles buried in Shelton’s bowel movements. Since I didn’t have the stomach to spend any time searching Shelton’s blog myself, as I couldn’t get past his many posts on “anti-white racism,” I restricted myself to Hedrich’s defense of Shelton’s sub-trinitarianism on the Clark Facebook page and on his own blog, Unapologetica.
It is first important to remember that with any false teaching there is always mixed in a grain of truth and thread of orthodoxy. For example, Hedrich writes quoting Shelton:
There is a subordination of persons but not of nature. The nature in the Father, Son and Holy Ghost is the same in character. However, the Father is the source of the Son and Spirit and all operation.
The above sounds perfectly fine as John Gill writes:
The Son has life in himself, essentially, originally, and inderivatively as the Father has, being equally the living God, the fountain of life, and donor of it, as he; and therefore this is not a life which he gives, or communicates to him; but eternal life is what the one gives, and the other receives, according to the economy of salvation settled between them… (Exposition of the Bible, John 5:26)
And, Gordon Clark similarly writes:
This Christ, the Logos or Wisdom of the Father, is the instrument He used in creation. The persons of the Trinity are *essentially* equal, and Christ is *authotheos* — God in His own right. However, there is a functional subordination. (First Corinthians, 132).
While there might be a legitimate debate on whether or not this “functional subordination” is a matter restricted to “the economy of salvation” as God’s plan of redemption works itself out in history or if it is a revelation of the eternal relationship between the self-existent Persons themselves, there is no legitimate debate on whether there is any ontological subornation among the divine Persons because, at least among Reformed Christians, there isn’t.
So, how then did Hedrich arrive at:
The Father is divine of Himself. The Son and Spirit are divine in virtue of the communication of a divine essence from the Father to them in eternal generation and procession…. the meaning of “God” is peculiar to the Father in the sense He alone is auto-theos. The other persons are subordinate to the Father, not because they have inferior divine natures, but because they possess their divine natures on account of the Father.
The Son and Spirit are not “autotheos.”
The way Hedrich and Shelton get around this juxtaposition of orthodoxy and glaring heterodoxy is through a clever use of redefinition. When it’s argued that self-existence is a distinguishing attribute of the divine nature and is central to God’s essence, self-existence is magically redefined as a “personal property”; a “personal property” unique to the Father and to the exclusion of the other two Persons (or should that be lower case ‘persons”). But, what can the “personal property” of self-existence be except a divine attribute. On the one hand there is a subordination of persons not of nature, on the other there is a subordination of both persons and nature. In Shelton’s anti-trinitarianism the Father is an ontologically superior being who the other two Persons are united to in limited and derivative way. And, while this unity is limited and derivative (limited since self-existence is not an attribute of deity – or so we’re told) is said to avoid tri-theism, it seems that Unitarianism very much looms on the horizon and it does.
You see, Shelton’s ontological subordination of the Son and Spirit to the ontologically superior Father is not unique to Shelton. Frankly, I should not have been surprised since it was hard for me to imagine him having even one original thought. It seems he arrived at his view from one of the originators of 18th Century Unitarianism, Samuel Clarke, who, if you can hold your nose long enough, you’ll see is a prominent figure on Shelton’s blog. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy in an entry dealing with Clarke written by a fellow Unitarian, Dale Tuggy:
The core of Clarke’s subordinationism is as follows. Certain names or titles in the Bible, including “God”, always are nearly always refer to the Father, giving him a kind of primacy among the three. The word “God” is used in higher and lower senses, and in his view the former always refer to the Father. The God of Israel, the one true God, just is the Father of Jesus. Further, he is the main and the primary and ultimate object of Christian worship and prayer, and as the sole recipient of the highest kind of worship. In his view, the Son of God has all the divine attributes but one, that of existing a se that is, existing and not being in any sense derivative of or dependent on anything else. To the contrary, “The Father Alone is Self-existent, Underived, Unoriginated, Independent” (Clarke 1738, 123). It is contradictory to suppose that something has this property in any sense because of another thing. In his view the Son and the Holy Spirit (like the Son, a personal agent or self distinct from the Father) exist and have their perfections because of the Father. Both are functionally and ontologically subordinate to him, and in the Spirit is at least functionally subordinate to the Son. What sort of dependence relations are these? The Son and Spirit derive their being from the Father as from a “Supreme Cause”, but we are not to infer from this that the Father existed before them. The Bible doesn’t enlighten us on the nature of this dependence relationship, but seems to presuppose that it always was (i.e., that infinitely back in time, the Son and Spirit existed in dependence on the Father). Thus, “Arian” subordinationists … are speculating groundlessly when they say there was a time when the Son didn’t exist. And if a “creature” must at some time begin to exist, then neither Son nor Spirit are creatures. Still, Clarke thinks that we should affirm with some of the early church fathers that this derivation of the Son from the Father is “not by mere Necessity of Nature, (which would be in reality Self-existence, not Filiation;) But by an Act of the Father’s incomprehensible Power and Will” (141, original emphases). Clarke argues that the New Testament teaches the eternal existence of the Son, and that he is (co-) creator of the world. Further, it teaches that the Holy Spirit is a personal agent distinct from God (and not a power of God, or an exercise of such). And against the mainstream tradition, “The word God, in Scripture, never signifies a complex Notion of more Persons (or Intelligent Agents) than One; but always means One Person only, viz., either the Person of the Father singly, or the Person of the Son singly.” (emphasis mine).
Yet, in spite of all this (and considerably more), Hedrich remains increasingly entrenched in his new found Unitarianism.