The Catholicity of the Reformed Faith and Its Evangelical Counterparts

Recently Mark Driscoll and Gerry Brashears published a survey of basic Christian teaching. Martin Downes has been helpfully evaluating their account of the doctrine of Christ. It is interesting to see the way two ostensibly “Reformed” writers handle a matter of catholic dogma. Contrast the way this question is addressed with the way it is handled by the Reformed churches in the Reformed confessions:

Belgic Confession (1561) article 10 says:

We believe that Jesus Christ, according to his divine nature, is the only Son of God—eternally begotten, not made nor created, for then he would be a creature. He is one in essence with the Father; coeternal; the exact image of the person of the Father and the “reflection of his glory,” being in all things like him. He is the Son of God not only from the time he assumed our nature but from all eternity….

Chapter 3 of Heinrich Bullinger’s Second Helvetic Confession (1561; publ. 1566) says:

as the Father has begotten the Son from eternity, the Son is begotten by an ineffable generation

The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) says:

3. In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.

The Athanasian Creed says, “For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds (ante saecula); and made of the substance of His mother, born in the world.”

The expression “ante saecula” means, “from eternity.” The (Latin) Vulgate translates 1 Corinthians 2:7, “But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages (πρὸ τῶν αἰώνων) for our glory” with the very same phrase, “ante saecula. It means “from eternity.” It’s closely related to the phrase found in Romans 16:27 and Galatians 1:5 (and many other places) “unto eternity” (“εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων”) as “in saecula saeculorum“).

When the Athanasian says “begotten before the worlds” it’s saying, “eternally begotten.” This is the doctrine of the Nicene Creed when it says “begotten not made.” The point of the contrast is to repudiate the heretical notion that “there was when the Son was not.” They were asserting the opposite: there never was when the Son was not. The Son always was. The Son always was the Son. It’s a great mystery, of course, but the intent of the catholic creeds is evident.

If my understanding of recent evangelical history is correct Driscoll and Brashears are not the only predestinarian evangelicals who have taken a similar approach to this question. Perhaps this happens because of the way non-confessional evangelicals relate to Christian tradition, the confessions and the catholic creeds?

Once more: If the Reformed churches confess that the Son is eternally begotten and (YRR) predestinarian evangelicals deny it, can the latter be properly described as “Reformed?” If the predestinarian evangelicals don’t confess our Christology, our covenant theology, our ecclesiology, our doctrine of the sacraments, what is it about their theology, piety, and practice that makes them Reformed?

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